A chilling study shows how hostile college students are toward free speech

Catherine Rampell writes: Here’s the problem with suggesting that upsetting speech warrants “safe spaces,” or otherwise conflating mere words with physical assault: If speech is violence, then violence becomes a justifiable response to speech.

Just ask college students. A fifth of undergrads now say it’s acceptable to use physical force to silence a speaker who makes “offensive and hurtful statements.”

That’s one finding from a disturbing new survey of students conducted by John Villasenor, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and University of California at Los Angeles professor. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Saudi Arabia wasn’t always this repressive. Now it’s unbearable

Jamal Khashoggi writes: When I speak of the fear, intimidation, arrests and public shaming of intellectuals and religious leaders who dare to speak their minds, and then I tell you that I’m from Saudi Arabia, are you surprised?

With young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s rise to power, he promised an embrace of social and economic reform. He spoke of making our country more open and tolerant and promised that he would address the things that hold back our progress, such as the ban on women driving.

But all I see now is the recent wave of arrests. Last week, about 30 people were reportedly rounded up by authorities, ahead of the crown prince’s ascension to the throne. Some of the arrested are good friends of mine, and the effort represents the public shaming of intellectuals and religious leaders who dare to express opinions contrary to those of my country’s leadership. The scene was quite dramatic as masked security men stormed houses with cameras, filming everything and confiscating papers, books and computers. The arrested are accused of being recipients of Qatari money and part of a grand Qatari-backed conspiracy. Several others, myself included, are in self-exile and could face arrest upon returning home. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Congress shouldn’t silence human rights advocates

Roger Waters writes: Members of Congress are currently considering a bill that threatens to silence the growing support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian freedom and human rights, known as B.D.S. This draconian bill, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, threatens individuals and businesses who actively participate in boycott campaigns in support of Palestinian rights conducted by international governmental organizations with up to 20 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine.

By endorsing this McCarthyite bill, senators would take away Americans’ First Amendment rights in order to protect Israel from nonviolent pressure to end its 50-year-old occupation of Palestinian territory and other abuses of Palestinian rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union has condemned the bill, which the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is lobbying for, as a threat to the constitutional right to free speech.

All Americans — regardless of their views on Israel-Palestine — should understand that potentially targeting and blacklisting fellow citizens who support Palestinian rights could turn out to be the thin end of a thick authoritarian wedge. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Judge orders tech company to release Web user data from anti-Trump website

The Washington Post reports: A D.C. Superior Court judge Thursday ruled a Los Angeles-based tech company must provide email addresses and other computer information from people who visited an anti-Trump website in the months leading to Inauguration Day.

During an hour-long hearing, attorneys for DreamHost, which hosts the website Disruptj20.org, argued the federal search warrant still was too broad and would include information about people who visited the site but were not part of violent Inauguration Day rioting.

The riots left six police officers injured and caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage when downtown D.C. businesses were vandalized just blocks from where President Trump and his family paraded following the swearing-in ceremony.

Prosecutors have filed felony rioting charges against some 200 individuals who they say participated in the riots and are asking for the website information as they pursue their criminal cases.

DreamHost attorney Raymond Aghaian said the site was not an anti-Trump website but an “advocacy site that addresses political issues.”

“They are requesting all database and database records,” Aghaian said. “With one warrant, they are trying to obtain content from multiple email accounts. That is unconstitutional.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

How hate groups forced online platforms to reveal their true nature

John Herman writes: The recent rise of all-encompassing internet platforms promised something unprecedented and invigorating: venues that unite all manner of actors — politicians, media, lobbyists, citizens, experts, corporations — under one roof. These companies promised something that no previous vision of the public sphere could offer: real, billion-strong mass participation; a means for affinity groups to find one another and mobilize, gain visibility and influence. This felt and functioned like freedom, but it was always a commercial simulation. This contradiction is foundational to what these internet companies are. Nowhere was this tension more evident than in the case of Cloudflare, a web-infrastructure company. Under sustained pressure to drop The Daily Stormer as a client, the company’s chief executive, Matthew Prince, eventually assented. It was an arbitrary decision, and one that was out of step with the company’s stated policies. This troubled Prince. ‘‘I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn’t be allowed on the internet,’’ he wrote in an email to his staff. ‘‘No one should have that power.’’

Social platforms tend to refer to their customers in euphemistic, almost democratic terms: as ‘‘users’’ or ‘‘members of a community.’’ Their leaders are prone to statesmanlike posturing, and some, like Mark Zuckerberg, even seem to have statesmanlike ambitions. Content moderation and behavioral guidelines are likewise rendered in the terms of legal governance, as are their systems for dispute and recourse (as in the ubiquitous post-ban ‘‘appeal’’). Questions about how platforms like Twitter and Reddit deal with disruptive users and offensive content tend to be met with defensive language invoking free speech.

In the process of building private communities, these companies had put on the costumes of liberal democracies. They borrowed the language of rights to legitimize arbitrary rules, creating what the technology lawyer Kendra Albert calls ‘‘legal talismans.’’ This was first and foremost operationally convenient or even necessary: What better way to avoid liability and responsibility for how customers use your product? It was also good marketing. It’s easier to entrust increasingly large portions of your private and public life to an advertising and data-mining firm if you’re led to believe it’s something more. But as major internet platforms have grown to compose a greater share of the public sphere, playing host to consequential political organization — not to mention media — their internal contradictions have become harder to ignore. Far before Charlottesville, they had already become acute. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Palestine: Dangerous escalation in attacks on freedom of expression

Amnesty International reports: The Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and their rivals, the de-facto Hamas administration in Gaza, have both tightened the noose on freedom of expression in recent months, launching a repressive clampdown on dissent that has seen journalists from opposition media outlets interrogated and detained in a bid to exert pressure on their political opponents, said Amnesty International.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian authorities have arrested six journalists in August so far, shut down 29 websites and introduced a controversial Electronic Crimes Law imposing tight controls on media freedom and banning online expression and dissent. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas security forces have arrested at least two journalists since June and hampered others from freely carrying out their work. At least 12 Palestinians, including activists, were also detained by Hamas for critical comments posted on Facebook.

“The last few months have seen a sharp escalation in attacks by the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, on journalists and the media in a bid to silence dissent. This is a chilling setback for freedom of expression in Palestine,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

“By rounding up journalists and shutting down opposition websites the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip appear to be using police state tactics to silence critical media and arbitrarily block people’s access to information.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Justice demands 1.3M IP addresses related to Trump resistance site

The Hill reports: The Department of Justice has requested information on visitors to a website used to organize protests against President Trump, the Los Angeles-based Dreamhost said in a blog post published on Monday.

Dreamhost, a web hosting provider, said that it has been working with the Department of Justice for several months on the request, which believes goes too far under the Constitution.

DreamHost claimed that the complying with the request from the Justice Department would amount to handing over roughly 1.3 million visitor IP addresses to the government, in addition to contact information, email content and photos of thousands of visitors to the website, which was involved in organizing protests against Trump on Inauguration Day.

“That information could be used to identify any individuals who used this site to exercise and express political speech protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment,” DreamHost wrote in the blog post on Monday. “That should be enough to set alarm bells off in anyone’s mind.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

FBI tracked ‘fake news’ believed to be from Russia on Election Day

CNN reports: The FBI monitored social media on Election Day last year in an effort to track a suspected Russian disinformation campaign utilizing “fake news,” CNN has learned.

In the months leading up to Election Day, Twitter and Facebook were the feeding grounds for viral “news” stories floating conspiracies and hoaxes, many aimed at spreading negative false claims about Hillary Clinton.

On Election Day, dozens of agents and analysts huddled at a command center arrayed with large monitoring screens at the FBI headquarters in Washington watching for security threats, according to multiple sources.

That included analysts monitoring cyber threats, after months of mounting Russian intrusions targeting every part of the US political system, from political parties to policy think-tanks to state election systems.

On this day, there was also a group of FBI cyber and counterintelligence analysts and investigators watching social media.
FBI analysts had identified social media user accounts behind stories, some based overseas, and the suspicion was that at least some were part of a Russian disinformation campaign, according to two sources familiar with the investigation.

The FBI declined to comment for this story.

For the FBI, this was uncomfortable territory, given the First Amendment’s free speech protections even for fake news stories.
“We were right on the edge of Constitutional legality,” a person briefed on the investigation said. “We were monitoring news.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Federal Court: Public officials cannot block social media users because of their criticism

Slate reports: Does the First Amendment bar public officials from blocking people on social media because of their viewpoint?

That question has hung over the White House ever since Donald Trump assumed the presidency and continued to block users on Twitter. The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University has sued the president on behalf of blocked users, spurring a lively academic debate on the topic. But Trump isn’t the only politician who has blocked people on social media. This week, a federal court weighed in on the question in a case with obvious parallels to Trump’s. It determined that the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause does indeed prohibit officeholders from blocking social media users on the basis of their views. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

This piece of pro-Israel legislation is a serious threat to free speech

David Cole and Faiz Shakir write: The right to boycott has a long history in the United States, from the American Revolution to Martin Luther King Jr.’s Montgomery bus boycott to the campaign for divestment from businesses serving apartheid South Africa. Nowadays we celebrate those efforts. But precisely because boycotts are such a powerful form of expression, governments have long sought to interfere with them — from King George III to the police in Alabama, and now to the U.S. Congress.

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act, legislation introduced in the Senate by Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) and in the House by Peter J. Roskam (R-Ill.), would make it a crime to support or even furnish information about a boycott directed at Israel or its businesses called by the United Nations, the European Union or any other “international governmental organization.” Violations would be punishable by civil and criminal penalties of up to $1 million and 20 years in prison. The American Civil Liberties Union, where we both work, takes no position for or against campaigns to boycott Israel or any other foreign country. But since our organization’s founding in 1920, the ACLU has defended the right to collective action. This bill threatens that right.

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act is designed to stifle efforts to protest Israel’s settlement policies by boycotting businesses in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. The bill’s particular target is the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, a global campaign that seeks to apply economic and political pressure on Israel to comply with international law. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Turkish guards will be charged in embassy protest, officials say

The New York Times reports: Law enforcement officials plan to announce charges Thursday against a dozen members of the Turkish president’s security detail for their involvement in a brutal attack on protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence here last month, two American officials said on Wednesday.

The authorities have already charged several others, including two Americans and two Canadians, with taking part in the violent skirmish.

The Washington police have been investigating the May 16 attack along with the State Department and the Secret Service. The police planned to announce the charges at a news conference on Thursday morning, according to the two officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the charges before they were made public. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Trump’s commerce secretary finds the effects of political oppression in Saudi Arabia very appealing

Business Insider reports: The Saudi government banned all forms of protest in 2011 in the wake of the Arab Spring.

“Regulations in the kingdom forbid categorically all sorts of demonstrations, marches, and sit-ins, as they contradict Islamic Sharia law and the values and traditions of Saudi society,” a Saudi interior ministry statement said at the time.

A counterterrorism law enacted in 2014 reinforced the ban on dissent, characterizing any act that “undermines” the Saudi state or society as an act of terrorism.

Both laws were enacted under King Abdullah, who died in January 2015. But dissidents and activists continue to be jailed and publicly tortured through 2017, according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Trump’s speech in Riyadh on Sunday did not mention Saudi Arabia’s human-rights violations, which include public floggings, coerced confessions, and death sentences for crimes such as nonviolent drug offenses. Most executions are carried out by beheading, according to Amnesty International. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

‘The internet is broken,’ says pioneer of social media, Evan Williams

The New York Times reports: Evan Williams is the guy who opened up Pandora’s box. Until he came along, people had few places to go with their overflowing emotions and wild opinions, other than writing a letter to the newspaper or haranguing the neighbors.

Mr. Williams — a Twitter founder, a co-creator of Blogger — set everyone free, providing tools to address the world. In the history of communications technology, it was a development with echoes of Gutenberg.

And so here we are in 2017. How’s it going, Mr. Williams?

“I think the internet is broken,” he says. He has believed this for a few years, actually. But things are getting worse. “And it’s a lot more obvious to a lot of people that it’s broken.”

People are using Facebook to showcase suicides, beatings and murder, in real time. Twitter is a hive of trolling and abuse that it seems unable to stop. Fake news, whether created for ideology or profit, runs rampant. Four out of 10 adult internet users said in a Pew survey that they had been harassed online. And that was before the presidential campaign heated up last year.

“I thought once everybody could speak freely and exchange information and ideas, the world is automatically going to be a better place,” Mr. Williams says. “I was wrong about that.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Video shows Erdogan watching his security guards beating up peaceful protesters in Washington

 

Facebooktwittermail

State Dept condemns ‘brutal attack’ carried out by Turkish officials against peaceful protesters in Washington

 

The New York Times reports: Supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, including his government security forces and several armed individuals, violently charged a group of protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence here on Tuesday night in what the police characterized as “a brutal attack.”

Eleven people were injured, including a police officer, and nine were taken to a hospital, the Metropolitan Police chief, Peter Newsham, said at a news conference on Wednesday. Two Secret Service agents were also assaulted in the melee, according to a federal law enforcement official.

The State Department condemned the attack as an assault on free speech and warned Turkey that the action would not be tolerated. “We are communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms,” said Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman.

A group of Republican lawmakers went a step further, calling the episode an “affront to the United States” and calling for Turkey to apologize. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

After Trump welcomed Erdogan, the Turkish president’s bodyguards beat up protesters in Washington

CNN reports: Nine people were injured during a protest outside of the residence of the Turkish ambassador in Washington, DC on Tuesday, according to the official Twitter account of Washington, DC fire and EMS department.

About two dozen demonstrators showed up outside of the embassy just hours after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with President Donald Trump at the White House.

“We are protesting (Erdogan’s) policies in Turkey, in Syria and in Iraq,” said Flint Arthur of Baltimore, Maryland.

Arthur accused Erdogan supporters of breaching police lines and attacking protesters on at least three separate occasions.

A Facebook video captured at the scene shows several protesters covered in blood.

“They think they can engage in the same sort of suppression of protest and free speech that they engage in in Turkey,” Arthur said. “They stopped us for a few minutes … but we still stayed and continued to protest Erdogan’s tyrannical regime.”

The victims were transported to George Washington University Hospital.

The incident came as Trump extended a warm welcome to Erdogan, an authoritarian-style leader who had a strained relationship with the previous US administration. [Continue reading…]

This is a particularly lame piece of reporting. There aren’t many observers who had any difficulty in identifying the men in dark suits, recognizing them as not merely Erdogan “supporters” but more importantly as representatives of the Turkish state.

This isn’t authoritarian-style behavior — it’s authoritarianism plain and simple and it’s being given license to operate on the streets of Washington D.C.. And note who the police arrested and who they just waved away.

Facebooktwittermail

Hasan Minhaj at WH Correspondents’ Dinner: ‘I am watching the news, but it feels like I am watching CNN watch the news’

 

Hasan Minhaj: My favorite entertainment channel is in the building tonight — CNN is here, baby.

Now, you guys have some really weird trust issues going on with the public.

I am not going to call you fake news but everything isn’t breaking news.

You can’t go to DEFCON 1 because Sanjay Gupta found a new moisturizer.

Every time a story breaks you have nine screens — nine boxes on the screen! I am trying to watch the news not pick a player in Street Fighter. It’s giving me anxiety.

If you have nine “experts” on a panel, what is your barrier of entry?

“Here to talk about transportation infrastructure is my Uber driver, Gary. Gary, what ‘a you got?” — it just says Gary 4.8 stars.

“I dunno know — I got a mint.”

“Thanks Gary, let’s go to the next countdown clock.”

All you guys do is stoke up conflict.

Don [Lemon], every time I watch your show it feels like I am watching a reality TV show.

CNN Tonight should just be called “Wait a second, now hold on, stop yelling at each other, with Don Lemon.”

You know your news, right? Come on. But every time I watch CNN it feels like you are assigning me homework.

“Is Trump a Russian spy? I don’t know, you tell me. Tweet us at AC 360.” No, you tell me.

I am watching the news, but it feels like I am watching CNN watch the news.

Just take an hour, figure out what you want to say, then go on the air.

We are in a very strange situation where there is a very combative relationship between the press and the president, but now that you guys are “minorities,” just for this moment, you may understand the position I was in. It is the same position a lot of minorities feel like they are in in this country. And it’s: do I come up here and just try to fit in and not ruffle any feathers? Or do I say how I really feel? Because this event is about celebrating the First Amendment and free speech.

Free speech is the foundation of an open and liberal democracy, from college campuses to the White House.

Only in America can a first-generation Indian-American Muslim kid get on this stage and make fun of the president — the orange man behind the Muslim ban.

And it’s a sign to the rest of the world — it’s this amazing tradition that shows the entire world that even the president is not beyond the reach of the First Amendment.

But the president didn’t show up. Because Donald Trump doesn’t care about free speech. The man who tweets everything that enters his head, refuses to a knowledge the amendment that allows him to do it.

Facebooktwittermail

The government is demanding to know who this Trump critic is. Twitter is suing to keep it a secret

The Washington Post reports: Twitter filed a lawsuit Thursday against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, asking the court to prevent the department from taking steps to unmask the user behind an account critical of the Trump administration.

The tech company said that allowing DHS access to that information would produce a “grave chilling effect on the speech of that account,” as well as other accounts critical of the U.S. government. The case sets up a potential showdown over free speech between Silicon Valley and Washington.

According to Twitter’s court filings, Homeland Security is “unlawfully abusing a limited-purpose investigatory tool” to find out who is behind the @ALT_USCIS account. Its Twitter feed has publicly criticized the administration’s immigration policies, particularly the actions of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) division of Homeland Security. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Americans’ right to protest is in grave danger under Trump, United Nations warns

Amanda Erickson writes: The right to protest is fundamental to American democracy. The country was born, after all, out of decades of civil disobedience by people angry about taxation without representation. (In Washington, FWIW, we are still angry.)

But according to United Nations human rights investigators, this very basic principle is under attack. Over the past few months, on the heels of a fresh wave of organizing by liberals, at least 19 states have introduced measures that would criminalize peaceful protest. In places such as Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa, Republican lawmakers have proposed laws that would stiffen penalties for demonstrators who block traffic. In North Dakota, GOP leaders are pushing a bill that would allow motorists to run over and kill agitators, as long as the crash was accidental. In Indiana, conservatives want to instruct police to use “any means necessary” to remove activists from a roadway. Opponents worry this could lead to more brutal police response.

Colorado lawmakers are considering a big increase in penalties for environmental protesters. Activists who tamper with oil or gas equipment could be, under the measure, face felony charges and be punished with up to 18 months behind bars and a fine of up to $100,000. A bill pending in the Virginia state legislature would dramatically increase punishment for people who “unlawfully” assemble after “having been lawfully warned to disperse.” Those who do so could face a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

In Missouri, some lawmakers want to make it illegal to wear a robe, mask or disguise (remarkably, a hoodie would count) to a protest. Lawmakers in North Carolina want to make it a crime to heckle lawmakers.

Taken together, the United Nations warns, these bills represent an “alarming and undemocratic” trend that could have a chilling effect on activism. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail