Sunday, May 5, 2019

Meet the New Thought Police

Once upon a time Americans cherished their right to free speech. It was sacrosanct, granted us by the First Amendment to the Constitution and enshrined by a series of Supreme Court cases in twentieth century.

Of course, we guarantee free expression because we protect the rights of those who engage in repulsive, obnoxious and hateful speech. We do not have First Amendment protections because we want to protect those who speak more kindly and gently. We do it to protect the rights of those who disagree and of those who express uncomfortable thoughts.

Now, however, the culture has changed. It has shifted appreciably because too many people have decided that speech is action and that we must not allow anyone to say anything that might hurt or offend anyone else. We draw no real distinction between speaking harsh words and performing harsh deeds. Thus, we have produced the hate speech exception, the notion that any speech we deem hateful and discriminatory should be banned. And we increasingly act as though anyone who lets slip the least hateful slur should be consigned to the sixth circle of the Inferno.

America is no longer in competition against external competitors, like China. It is no longer willing to defend itself against Islamist terrorists-- you remember, the people that Barack Obama refused to name. The nation is at war against bigotry and especially against any speech act that bespeaks bigotry or hate.

As always, the problem is: who decides what is hate speech? Is it any speech that offends your delicate and thin-skinned psyche? If so, then your sensitive disposition, your predisposition to take offense, will be a dispositive fact in depriving someone else of the right to free expression.

As for who decides, now we know. It’s the tech oligarchs of Silicon Valley, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey in particular. If they decide that you are a menace to whatever ideals have taken hold of their brains, you are going to be silenced. The problem is not so much the tech titans, but those who have hijacked and occupied their minds. Thus, a series of right wing provocateurs, from Milo Yiannopoulis to Diamond and Silk to James Woods have at one time or another been deplatoformed, as the term has it. Now, Rev. Louis Farrakhan, a leading American anti-Semite has also been banned, doubtless to give the censorship a semblance of impartiality.

And yet, the Daily Mail reports this morning that Facebook still allows many purveyors of hate to function on its platform:

But the company was today accused of hypocrisy when hordes of anti-Christian fanatics and anti-Semites are allowed to function freely on the site despite a raft complaints.

They say hate preachers like the Pakistani cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi – spiritual leader of the extremist group Tehreek-e-Labbaik – spreads anti-Christian rhetoric to thousands of followers on the network.

Rizvi was behind massive demonstrations to demand the death penalty for Asia Bibi, a Christian mother-of-five accused of blasphemy by a Pakistani court and was sentenced to death by hanging in 2010, before being acquitted last year.

And, that’s not all folks:

Wael Aleji, an associate at the Wilberforce Alliance foundation, said that the platform has become 'a sewer of poisonous anti-Christian hatred and anti-Semitism'.

'Extremist groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Muslim Brotherhood are very active on Facebook, both as organisations and as individual members,' he said.

'They have been reported so many times but Facebook does nothing. In fact, when a Muslim friend of mine wrote an article that was mildly critical of Islamic fundamentalism, Facebook removed it.

'Sometimes I wonder whether the platform is really being run by Islamists.'

Mr Aleji demanded to know why Facebook purge hasn't included Ayat Oraby, the Egyptian blogger linked to the Muslim Brotherhood living in the US.

'Some of the things she writes on Facebook about Christians are truly poisonous, especially in Arabic,' he said. 'People have complained many times. Yet she is allowed to carry on freely.'

It shows the problem with selective repression of free speech. Where do you start and where do you stop?

As it happens, Bret Stephens opined on the topic in his column yesterday. He does not fear that conservative voices are being suppressed, in particular. Perhaps this is because he is blind. In truth, the repression is especially targeting conservative speakers, because, the good leftists of Silicon Valley seem to believe that their real war is not against radical Islam or against anti-Christian hate, but against the real enemy, the radical right.

Anyway, Stephens criticizes the tech oligarchs because they are manifestly unqualifed for the job they have undertaken… that being, producing a nation where everyone thinks the same thoughts and where conservatives will be shut up, until they are brainwashed into submission.

He writes:

I don’t, but not because conservatives believe (sometimes with good reason) that the Valley is culturally, politically and possibly algorithmically biased against them. As with liberalism in academia, the left-wing tilt in tech may be smug and self-serving, but it doesn’t stop conservatives from getting their messages across. It certainly doesn’t keep Republicans from winning elections.

The deeper problem is the overwhelming concentration of technical, financial and moral power in the hands of people who lack the training, experience, wisdom, trustworthiness, humility and incentives to exercise that power responsibly.

Of course, we are only at the dawn of an age when the thought police of Silicon Valley will make it increasingly difficult for conservatives to get their message across.

Stephens continues, to point out the dangers inherent in making yourself the thought police. The point about free speech is that it protects the rights of “odious figures.” Such are not easy calls. They are really starting down what he calls a “slippery slope,” which is one reason why free speech rights extend to hate speech.

Getting rid of Farrakhan, Jones and the others are the easy calls for now, because they are such manifestly odious figures and they have no real political power.

But what happens with the harder calls, the ones who want to be seen publicly and can’t be swept under: alleged Islamophobes, militant anti-immigration types, the people who call for the elimination of Israel? Facebook has training documents governing hate speech, and is now set to deploy the latest generation of artificial intelligence to detect it.

And, of course, while the oligarchs claim that an algorithm is making the decisions, the decisions are ultimately being made by human beings, human beings who have no qualifications for doing so. And when these titans of techland farm out the selection process they choose appalling organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group for whom anyone to the right of Hillary Clinton is a fascist:

But the decision to absolutely ban certain individuals will always be a human one. It will inevitably be subjective. And as these things generally go, it will wind up leading to bans on people whose views are hateful mainly in the eyes of those doing the banning. Recall how the Southern Poverty Law Center, until recently an arbiter of moral hygiene in matters of hate speech, wound up smearing Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz, both champions of political moderation, as “anti-Muslim extremists.”

Facebook probably can’t imagine that its elaborate systems and processes would lead to perverse results. And not everything needs to be a slippery slope.

Surely, it’s time for the American government, and especially Congress to crack down on these companies. Of course, given the level of dysfunction we see in our legislature, it feels like whistling past the graveyard.


David Foster said...

"too many people have decided that speech is action"

I think this is due in part to the changes in job mix over time. If you're a farmer or a machinist or even an electrical engineer, the difference between speech and action is pretty clear. If you're a writer or a consultant or an advertising person or a professor (outside of the STEM fields), then not so much.

trigger warning said...

The current status of private companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google means they have every right to permit or deny content based on politics, just as the New York Times does.

The question is, when does a private company become a common carrier? In the 1930s, Bell Telephone passed that threshold. In the 70s and 80s, technical innovation and the rise of long haul carriers like MCI, Sprint, etc. changed the long distance market, and digital wireless moved in to destroy the remnant of local service. But Google, IMO, has clearly passed the threshold. The barriers to entry in the search domain are now so high, and Google so ubiquitous, that the search engine should be divested by Alphabet and regulated as a common carrier. That means no ads, no filtering, just search. It also means a Google bill, just like your local exchange wireline telephone company. Alphabet, Bing, DuckDuckGo, etc., can front-end Google and offer various "free" search services paid for by ad revenue and content controls to the customers' liking (cf., NYT), but a customer can buy raw search bandwidth from the Google exchange. The same may be true of Facebook and Twitter, but I don't use either so I can't comment.

The original targets of so-called Net Neutrality regulation were always the wrong companies, targeted by bandwidth hogs like Netflix, Google, etc, and supported by gullible anti-capitalist activists, to control bandwidth costs. Net Neutrality in its original form was guaranteed to bring about yet another Tragedy of the Commons in broadband infrastructure.

UbuMaccabee said...

I spent the entire day today rooting out traces of me online dating back decades. I've been doing this for months. I've had to rebuild my entire web existence behind Brave, ProtonMail, and a good VPN. I have so many aliases I have to write them all down in a book (who would ever think to look there). DeepMind's AlphaZero is going to be almost impossible to avoid.

Everyone in a position of influence or authority who does not agree to the leftist catechism (raceclassgenderclimate) will be targeted, and anything you have ever done or said online will be used against you. These bannings and deplatforming are just the first salvos.

You should be paranoid. AlphaZero never sleeps and it learns fast. And if you think a bunch of ineffectual eggheads on some AI ethics board are going to reign in the technology, you're deluded. Imagine Fusion GPS but with a team of leftist activists running targeted AI attacks on everyone and every organization their paymasters like Steyer and Soros tell them to. If I made that pitch to Steyer, he'd simply ask "How much money do you need?"

Conservatives had better shut down these organizations and get control or they will be seriously screwed. I bet half of them are already compromised. And then we have lightweights like Stephens who simply lack the historical imagination to conceive that evil might make an appearance in their rosy corridor.

The next person who says, "only people with something legitimate to hide would be concerned," should be the first person to have a forensic deep-dive into their entire electronic life displayed for the world to see--complete with Twitter mob and spiteful media to comment on all of it.

The four horsemen are not the good guys; they are the private sector arm of the source of all evil: the university.

David Foster said...

"The current status of private companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google means they have every right to permit or deny content based on politics, just as the New York Times does."

With the constraint that executives of public companies are *supposed* to act to maximize the returns to their shareholders, whose agents they are--they should not harm shareholder interests on behalf of their private political opinions. This is in addition to any common-carrier-type issues.

sestamibi said...

Frankly, I'm not worried about Facebook and Twitter. I still maintain that both are simply fads (although perhaps fads that have had a longer lifespan than typical) that will fade away when people have had enough. I never signed up for Facebook in the first place because I could see this happening twelve years ago.

The real evils which we should be concerned about are Google, with its intrusiveness and extra-legal "social credit" accounting, and the various financial institutions (banks, credit cards, PayPal, Patreon, et al.) that are now making decisions on whether to do business with you on the basis of whether or not your politics are sufficiently "woke".

We also need to be concerned about our law enforcement being selectively applied in left-wing blue cities to the extent that mayhem and sabotage perpetrated by the likes of Antifa is not prosecuted.

Be afraid, but not of Facebook and Twitter.

sestamibi said...

sestamibi said...

On the other hand, it's gratifying that some states are on top of the situation:

Sam L. said...

"It shows the problem with selective repression of free speech. Where do you start and where do you stop? " Where to start? Wherever. Where to stop? There IS no STOP.

Walt said...

More and more stuff on fb seems to be flagged as having been censored/removed in the last few months, often for reasons beyond comprehension. E.g.: While I still see a lot of antisemitic posts and links, fb removed a video I posted of ten men making a human chain down the side of sheer cliff to rescue a dog from a dam though I'm damned if I know what dogma that offended.

As for the rest, aside from their removing overt incitements to violence, I want to be able to see what my political opposites and even the most "odious" people are thinking. "Know your enemy" or you won't know how to fight him. When I was in college, students were signing petitions to ban "hurtful" campus screenings of Nazi propaganda films and DW Griffith's Intolerance when the very point of showing them was to get students to understand the realities history and the how propaganda worked to frame them. Enough of us opposed the banners to get the films shown, for which I am forever grateful.

UbuMaccabee said...

Google has taken off the benevolent mask; they are not even trying to hide it anymore. The Claremont Institute is not permitted to advertise for their own events with Google. The Claremont Institute. Harry Jaffa. Charles Kesler, Larry Arnn. The finest review of books in the nation cannot use Google to promote their events or ideas because Google has decided, unilaterally, that they violate raceclassgenderclimate. They hate us; it's time we reciprocated.