She flipped off President Trump and then got fired for being honest

Petula Dvorak writes: It was the middle-finger salute seen around the world.

Juli Briskman’s protest aimed at the presidential motorcade that roared past her while she was on her cycling path in Northern Virginia late last month became an instantly viral photo.

Turns out it has now cost the 50-year-old marketing executive her job.

On Halloween, after Briskman gave her bosses at Akima, a government contracting firm, a heads-up that she was the unidentified cyclist in the photo, they took her into a room and fired her, she said, escorting her out of the building with a box of her things.

“I wasn’t even at work when I did that,” Briskman said. “But they told me I violated the code-of-conduct policy.”

Her bosses at Akima, who have not returned emails and calls requesting comment, showed her the blue-highlighted Section 4.3 of the firm’s social media policy when they canned her. [Continue reading…]

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Trump threatens NFL and attacks Jemele Hill

The New York Times reports: President Trump threatened on Tuesday to use federal tax law to penalize the National Football League over players who kneel in protest during the national anthem as he sought to escalate a political fight that has resonated with his conservative base.

In one of a series of combative early morning tweets, Mr. Trump said that Congress should eliminate a law that has allowed the N.F.L. central office to avoid paying taxes as a nonprofit entity. “Why is the N.F.L. getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country?” he wrote. “Change tax law!”

The tax break for the N.F.L. has been a point of controversy for years, and other conservatives have taken up the cause in recent weeks as the president has repeatedly assailed the league over the player protests. But the idea would be more about symbolism than impact. The tax break applies only to the central office, not the teams, which already pay taxes as for-profit organizations, and the N.F.L. voluntarily gave up the tax exemption for its league office in 2015.

Mr. Trump on Tuesday also focused his fire again on Jemele Hill, the “SportsCenter” host on ESPN who previously called the president a white supremacist. Ms. Hill was suspended on Monday for suggesting that fans boycott advertisers of the Dallas Cowboys after the team owner, Jerry Jones, threatened to bench players who kneeled during the national anthem. [Continue reading…]

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By rejecting ‘inflammatory’ ad, Twitter gives candidate free publicity boost

Molly Roberts writes: By rejecting an ad for the Tennessee congresswoman’s fledgling Senate campaign that mentioned Planned Parenthood selling “baby body parts,” the platform provided Blackburn an early publicity boost.

“@Twitter continues campaign against @GOP,” former White House press secretary Sean Spicer tweeted.

“Here’s the Marsha Blackburn video Twitter banned. It would be a shame if this went viral & helped her win!” winked the alt-right activist known as Baked Alaska.

“The conservative revolution won’t be stopped by @Twitter and the liberal elite. Donate to my Senate campaign today!” the Blackburn campaign account implored.

Twitter did not, as some coverage has suggested, “ban” Blackburn’s ad entirely. It simply refused to sell her space for promotion. That means Blackburn’s ad is still viewable to anyone who searches for it, and the controversy Twitter has provoked means plenty of people will. The best part for Blackburn? She won’t have to pay a penny. [Continue reading…]

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DOJ demands Facebook information from ‘anti-administration activists’

CNN reports: Trump administration lawyers are demanding the private account information of potentially thousands of Facebook users in three separate search warrants served on the social media giant, according to court documents obtained by CNN.

The warrants specifically target the accounts of three Facebook users who are described by their attorneys as “anti-administration activists who have spoken out at organized events, and who are generally very critical of this administration’s policies.”

One of those users, Emmelia Talarico, operated the disruptj20 page where Inauguration Day protests were organized and discussed; the page was visited by an estimated 6,000 users whose identities the government would have access to if Facebook hands over the information sought in the search warrants. In court filings, Talarico says if her account information was given to the government, officials would have access to her “personal passwords, security questions and answers, and credit card information,” plus “the private lists of invitees and attendees to multiple political events sponsored by the page.”

These warrants were first reported by LawNewz.com.

Facebook has not responded to a request for comment about whether it has, or plans to, comply with the search warrants.
The American Civil Liberties Union, representing the three Facebook users, filed a motion to quash the warrants Thursday.

“What is particularly chilling about these warrants is that anti-administration political activists are going to have their political associations and views scrutinized by the very administration they are protesting,” said ACLU attorney Scott Michelman. [Continue reading…]

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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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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‘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…]

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