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Category Archives: Freedom of Speech
Posted: November 17, 2019 at 2:11 pm
President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election MORE on Friday defended his tweet earlier in the day attacking former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie YovanovitchMarie Yovanovitch'Saturday Night Live' presents Trump impeachment hearings with 'pizzazz' of soap opera Trump makes social media player in impeachment White House official arrives to testify in impeachment probe MORE in the middle of her public testimony in the House impeachment hearing, insisting he has the right tospeakout.
"I have the right to speak. I have freedom of speech just like other people do,"Trump told reporters at the White House after making remarks on a health care initiative, adding that he's "allowed to speak up" if others are speaking about him.
Pressed on whether his words can be intimidating, as Yovanovitch and Democrats have said, Trump said no.
I dont think so at all," he said.
The remarks were Trump's first public commentsof the day, which has largely been dominated by testimony from Yovanovitch.Asthe former ambassador testified about a smear campaign by Trump's allies to oust her from her post in Kyiv, the president took aim at her on Twitter.
Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him," Trump tweeted. "It is a U.S. Presidents absolute right to appoint ambassadors.
In a stunning moment, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy READ: Top NSC aide Tim Morrison's closed-door impeachment inquiry testimony Top NSC aide puts Sondland at front lines of Ukraine campaign, speaking for Trump MORE (D-Calif.) interrupted questioning from his staff counsel to read the presidents tweet aloud to Yovanovitch and asked for her reaction.
I dont think I have such powers, Yovanovitch said with a slight laugh. Not in Mogadishu, Somalia, not in other places.
Asked what effect Trumps tweet might have on future witnesses facing pressure from the White House not to testify, Yovanovitch described it as very intimidating.
Democrats on the committee and elsewhere in the House equated Trump's tweet to witness intimidation and suggested that it could be considered when mulling articles of impeachment later in the process.
The White House on Friday morning issued a statement that Trump would not be watching Yovanovitch's testimony beyond opening statements. But Trump himself said that he had tuned in.
"I watched a little bit of it today. I wasn't able to yesterday because we had the president of Turkey here, and I wasnt able to watch much," Trump said. "I watched some of it this morning and I thought it was a disgrace."
Trump complained that Republicans were not given a fair shake, referencing an instance where Schiff stopped Rep. Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikFive takeaways from ex-ambassador's dramatic testimony Trump defends Yovanovitch attack: 'I have freedom of speech' Live coverage: Ex-Ukraine ambassador testifies in public impeachment hearing MORE (R-N.Y.) from questioning Yovanovitch because the rules stipulated that only the ranking member or Republican counsel could ask questions during that period.
"Its a disgrace and its an embarrassment to our nation," Trump said.
Yovanovitch is the third witness to testify publicly in the House impeachment inquiry. Several other current and former administration officials are scheduled to give public testimony next week.
Read the original post:
Trump defends Yovanovitch attack: 'I have freedom of speech' | TheHill - The Hill
Posted: at 2:11 pm
If I am part of a human chain participating in an act of civil disobedience where no one was harmed, could I spend six years in prison and be forced to pay a $10,000 fine? If an aggressive anti-protest bill that is making its way through the Republican-controlled Legislature becomes law in Wisconsin, the answer very well could be yes. AB 426 seeks to silence activists with the threat of felony charges for protesting at critical infrastructure facilities.
In 2015, Wisconsin passed a law making it a felony to interrupt or impair services provided by WE Energies (WEC Energy Group, Inc.). The newly proposed bill would expand upon those provisions to specifically include companies that operate a gas, oil, petroleum, refined petroleum product, renewable fuel or chemical generation facility. While advertised as an effort to protect Wisconsins infrastructure, the real impact of the bill would be to criminalize peaceful protesters and suppress the freedom of speech.
Here in Wisconsin and across the country, climate protesterswho are often members of Native American tribeshave been exercising their constitutional right to protest the impending damage to their lands, homes and livelihoods. This proposal would put these demonstrators at risk of being criminally prosecuted for engaging in peaceful, nonviolent civil disobediencelike staging a march that interferes with a tanker truck delivery or blocking a roadway into a refinery.
Equally problematic is the bills ambiguous language, which fails to adequately describe what speech or conduct could subject protesters and organizations to criminal penalties. As a result, the bill would have a chilling effect on expressive activity and lead to self-censorship for fear of criminal prosecution.
Our country has a proud tradition of protestfrom the Boston Tea Party to the Million Man March to the Water Protectors at Standing Rockand as long as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has existed, it has been defending the rights of protesters to speak their minds and assemble together. The ACLU believes that dissent is a form of patriotism, all people have the right to free speech and the freedom to stand up for what they believe in, and when people are able to speak out against injustice, it strengthens American democracy for every citizen.
Unfortunately, it increasingly looks as if this anti-protest bill will pass the Wisconsin Legislature. However, this gives Gov. Tony Evers the opportunity to do the right thing by vetoing the bill and ensuring the people of Wisconsin maintain their right to peacefully protest.
Importantly, this is not a partisan issue. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, vetoed an anti-protest bill in 2017, noting the proposal was vague, overbroad and will have the effect of restricting both free speech and the right to assemble. The right to join with fellow citizens in protest or peaceful assembly is at the very core of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Threatening criminal charges against those who participate in exercising these rights would be a critical blow to our functioning democracy.
Chris Ott is the executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin.
Posted: at 2:11 pm
MADISON, Wis. A southwestern Wisconsin county council on Tuesday dropped a proposal to prosecute journalists over their reporting on a water quality study but could still decide to discipline any county officials who talk about the research without government approval.
The Lafayette County Land Conservation Committee drafted a resolution last week that warned journalists against reporting on the well contamination study without running an official news release verbatim. Media law experts warned that the proposal was unconstitutional.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the committee removed that from the resolution Tuesday.
But the panel approved a plan to "discipline" county board members and others if they talk about the study without permission from a panel of county officials.
The board was expected to take up the resolution Tuesday evening.
"Do I think this is a flagrant breach of the First Amendment? Absolutely," said Kriss Marion, a Lafayette County Board member who opposed the plan. "When you become a public official, you don't suddenly become, you know, hamstrung as to what you can talk about."
The Journal Sentinel reported that dozens of people attended Tuesday's committee meeting, with some accusing members of trying to hide information from the public.
"I'm abashed to be living in this county with this kind of stuff going on," Ginny Bean, of Argyle, said.
Federal and state researchers have been working on a joint study measuring contamination in private wells in Grant, Iowa and Lafayette counties, which are in southwestern Wisconsin. They released results in August that found 32 of 35 tested wells or 91% contained human or livestock fecal matter.
County officials were upset by news reports that they felt wrongly conveyed that 91% of all wells in the region were contaminated, Marion said. With another round of results soon, the resolution to restrict how they could be reported made its appearance last week, quickly drawing criticism for violating First Amendment protections for freedom of speech.
The committee passed the rewritten resolution 5-2 on Tuesday morning. It forbids any "board member, committee member, county official or county employee" to make any public statement on the water study without approval of a "Review Board." It warns that violators "may be subject to discipline."
County Board Chairman Jack Sauer said discipline for board members could include removal from county committees. He didn't specify what other punishments could be taken.
Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said officials should drop the new resolution. He said it's bad policy to require elected officials to get government approval before they speak.
"The whole reason we have independently elected public officials is so that we have the benefit of their perspective, not that they're put in a chair somewhere and told to shut up," he said.
Posted: at 2:11 pm
President Donald Trump pushed back on claims by House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) that by tweeting about former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch during the impeachment hearing, the president was intimidating the witness. Read Full Story
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Trump: 'I Have Freedom of Speech Just as Other People Do' - MRCTV
Free speech in Canada: It was bad five years ago. Do you think it’s gotten better since? – National Post
Posted: at 2:11 pm
Is free speech under attack, on Canadian campuses and in society at large? The National Post has a new documentary exploring this very issue. In the coming weeks, a series of essays in these pages will explore that same issue. Today, Barbara Kay examines cancel culture on Canadian campuses. To view the documentary, please go to NationalPost.com/freespeech.
What is behind cancel culture on campus? A shift in the universitys sense of its mission. The mission of free inquiry has been sublimated to the mission of social justice. For many decades, Yale University said that its purpose was to create, preserve and disseminate knowledge. Then, in 2016, Yales president announced a new mission, which no longer mentions knowledge. Instead, Yale is officially committed to improving the world by educating aspiring leaders, not only through research as in the past, but through practice.
What does that loaded word, practice, signify? It signifies ideology over inquiry, activism over erudition, illiberalism in the name of equity over intellectual freedom. All of which leads to cancel culture.
It signifies ideology over inquiry, activism over erudition
From a cornucopia of options, I have chosen three Canadian examples of cancel culture that struck me as especially unsettling in their implications.
Liberal Arts College is a small independent college embedded within Concordia University in Montreal. In May, the administration cancelled a slated graduation keynote address by political philosopher Harvey Mansfield, author of the book Manliness, and professor of government at Harvard University, where he has worked since 1962.
LAC has for 40 years been a bastion of classical liberal values, committed to free inquiry, with a core curriculum based in the great canon of Western civilization. It is one of the few colleges in Canada where political correctness is consciously and conscientiously opposed, and where the free exchange of ideas is a pillar of its mission.
LAC has for 40 years been a bastion of classical liberal values, committed to free inquiry
Retired founder and longtime LAC principal Fred Krantz said in an interview about the cancellation that he had believed LAC was immune to the wave of politically correct ideology sweeping many North American campuses. Yet a handful of alumni expressing their opposition to Mansfield because of his feminism-critical views (not the subject of his address) was enough to make the new president renege on the invitation.
So my feeling about this particular incident was one of special discouragement. The protesting alumni hadnt been indoctrinated or cowed into submission by social justice warriors at Berkeley. They were graduates of a program dedicated to inculcating a commitment to free academic inquiry. Yet their solid education in the classical liberal tradition was no prophylactic against an illiberal zeitgeist. Cancel culture can, it seems, be taken in by osmosis.
Cancel culture can, it seems, be taken in by osmosis
My second example is the University of Victorias recent decision to not renew the contract of adjunct professor Susan Crockford, a zoologist with an expertise in polar bears. Crockford was also on UVics Speakers Bureau list, and would regularly give talks to schools and community groups, but was removed from that role as well. What was her crime? Apparently wrongthink on climate change. Crockford shattered a popular climate-change myth by reporting that polar bear populations are not plummeting as a result of shrinking Arctic ice. In fact, polar bear numbers are stable and even rising.
The polar bears are there, masses of them, and in fact the federal government, if youve noticed, has stopped public grieving about their disappearance, because the Inuit gave them an earful on the subject. They were angry that their own testimony they are the ones who actually live with the polar bears was being ignored.
So Crockford was not disseminating false news, but reporting actual news that didnt reinforce the received wisdom on climate change. Which is why I found the polar bear story especially disturbing. Its one thing to fire a teacher who promotes theories or hypotheses the university disagrees with, though that would be wrong as well. This isnt the case with Crockfords non-renewal. After all, polar bear numbers have nothing to do with racism, sexism or transphobia, the usual grounds for cancel culture.
My final example arises from my participation in the 2014 Macdonald-Laurier Institutes Great Canadian Debate series. The resolution was Free speech in Canadian universities is an endangered species. I naturally took the affirmative side, and my opponent was Daniel Drache of York Universitys political science dept. What he had to say was, I believe, representative of the progressive mindset.
He began by asking the question: Does every crackpot, eccentric, provocateur or bona fide activist have a right to speak on campus? Drache sincerely believes that the people who have been de-platformed are not only small numerically about 23 a year he says out of about 2,000 invited speakers a year across Canada but also that most of them hold views that are so dumb or outrageous or offensive or dangerous that their de-platforming is an insignificant price to pay for the racial and gender diversity the modern university can boast of. He said that for those who are eager to hear these crackpots and eccentrics, they can find them on the Internet.
A free speech wall is in fact tangible proof (of the problem)
For my part, I made all the points you would expect from someone defending freedom of speech. But afterword, when we were socializing at a reception, Drache told me that there was only one argument I had made to which he felt vulnerable as a progressive. It was my comment following my observation that in 2013 a free-speech wall built by Students for Liberty at Queens University had been removed on the grounds of offensive content.
I had said: Free speech wall? Ominous doublespeak. Free speech walls emerged in authoritarian societies like China, because there was no freedom of speech, and citizens quite reasonably feared speaking truth to power. That there is an entire generation of Canadian students who think a free speech wall, one tiny corner of the campus approved for anonymously written incorrect thoughts, is something they should be grateful for well, this is pathetic. A free speech wall is in fact tangible proof (of the problem). It saddens me and scares me more than a little, too.
Well, I said that in 2014. Have things gotten better since?
This column was adapted from remarks to be given on Nov. 13 at the Whats Wrong with Cancel Culture? Free Inquiry in an Age of Outrage event in Calgary.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter:
Posted: at 2:11 pm
Fewer than half of students consistently support freedom of speech and two fifths favour censorship and no-platforming of controversial speakers, research has shown.
A culture of conformity may also be having an effect on undergraduates, who are often too intimidated to espouse unpopular views on campus, according to a report by the centre-right think tank Policy Exchange.
Deep-rooted reform is needed at universities, which should establish academic freedom champions reporting directly to the vice-chancellor, it says.
The research exposes the extent to which a significant number of students value safe spaces for disadvantaged groups above freedom of speech.
A higher number of women were in favour of censorship and men were more likely to support academic freedom, polling found. Gender differences had a bigger impact
Posted: at 2:11 pm
Congratulations! After a grueling campaign, you have been elected president of Discursia, a small nation somewhere in the Global South.
Discursia is peaceful and prosperous compared to its neighbors. But in 2028, how long can that last? Your economy is booming, but a small cadre of elites hoards its spoils. A restive minority group clamors for rights its been denied rights it might take up arms to obtain. And thousands of refugees mass at your borders, driven by the scarcity of a scorched planet.
Your mandate is to preserve democracy and stability, with minimal immiseration.
Outside your office, two trade delegations are waiting. Theyre from the two most powerful nations on Earth: the United States and the Peoples Republic of China.
The Americans go first. They propose a sweeping trade package, a plank of which is a 10-year commitment to American social networks: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. On these networks, Discursians can assume any identity they want, and post any content they want. (Except female nipples. Those are strictly forbidden.) The American platforms will resist requests from your government to take down content, including posts that could foment violence. Also, the deal prevents you from suing the platforms over content posted on them, even if it leads to something really bad, like a genocide. And yet, freedom of expression, baby! Just look at what its done for our country, the Americans say.
Next files in a group of Chinese government officials with a deal of their own. They want to refinance the debt they hold on the highway and ports theyve already built for you. But first, you have to commit to a 10-year partnership with platforms built by homegrown Chinese tech giants like Tencent and ByteDance. The Chinese networks are a lot like the American ones, with four major differences. The first is: Discursians cant say anything bad about the Chinese government, like that it might be committing a genocide. The second is: Despite assurances to the contrary, you suspect the Chinese Communist Party will have unfettered access to your citizens data. The third is: No aliases. Each account is linked to a national ID number. The fourth: These companies will be much more amenable to taking down anything you ask them to.
Everything in these deals washes out except for the platforms. You want whats best for Discursia. You also want to get reelected. Youve got to choose one.
This is an oversimplification, sure. But it is the way the global internet is trending. The rise of cyber sovereignty, the idea that governments should control the internet that their citizens use and the data they generate, proved in its most extreme form in China, heralds a fragmentation of the digital world. Countries are already blocking each others social networks as agents of foreign influence, requiring data to be housed on local servers or heading that way, and threatening to cut themselves off from the worlds internet in a pinch. Bipolar spheres of digital influence radiating out from Washington, DC, and Beijing are not only not out of the question they may be likely.
Move fast and break things. Let people post what they want and may the consequences be damned. Profits over patriotism. For years, these have been the values of the American-led social internet and its masters in Silicon Valley. Defined by lucratively reckless expansion and the total absence of planning, this laissez-faire model now faces, for the very first time, a real competitor. It doesnt come from Sens. Elizabeth Warren or Josh Hawleyled antitrust, nor from European-style data protection regimes. It is not an adjustment but a different paradigm entirely. Built to the specifications of the CCP, this model operates according to a much different principle: Shut up and leap forward. And to a world shifting from unipolar American leadership to something much less certain, an internet governance that stresses central state control, order, and authority may well be the rational, if terrifying, choice.
Terrifying: Uighurs thrown in vast prison camps for verboten speech on their smartphones. A pro-democracy intellectual suspended from China's version of Twitter on the flimsiest of pretexts. An influencer jailed for singing a lighthearted version of the national anthem. These models aren't morally equivalent far from it. The Chinese one lends itself directly to mass repression, while the American one leads to mass amplification, with sometimes horrible consequences. But despite that difference, or perhaps because of it, it's the former that's on the rise.
The Chinese internet governance model is the first real challenge to a free and open internet, Samm Sacks, a fellow of cybersecurity policy and Chinese digital economy at New America, told me recently. And as we see Chinese social media platforms gain real market share in countries that arent emerging economies, we are confronted head-on with this question.
That question: Which model will the world adopt ruthless government control, or chaotic, corporate-approved freedom?
Mark Zuckerberg speaks at Georgetown University in a "conversation on free expression" in Washington, DC, on Oct. 17.
This schism is the future Mark Zuckerberg asked Americans to envision last month in a curious speech in Washington, DC. Anchored to a lectern at Georgetown University, he forecast a great-power competition over the nature of online expression. In one corner were Made-in-the-USA platforms like his own, which, for all their faults, were inspired by the American tradition of free speech.
While we may disagree on exactly where to draw the line on specific issues, he said, we at least can disagree. The fact that we can even have this conversation means that were at least debating from some common values. If another nations platforms set the rules, our discourse will be defined by a completely different set of values.
That other nation, of course, is China. And while Zuckerberg didnt deign to name its values god help him if he had tried its clear that he was referring to censorship of the kind Chinese social media companies have for years imposed on Chinese citizens at the behest of the CCP.
Until recently, the internet in almost every country outside China has been defined by American platforms with strong free expression values, he said. Theres no guarantee these values will win out. A decade ago, almost all of the major internet platforms were American. Today, six of the top 10 are Chinese.
Critics were quick to point out the self-interestedness and hypocrisy of Zuckerbergs alarming forecast. For one thing, Facebook only started to use China as a foil recently as calls in Washington for regulation and possible antitrust action against it intensified. (The companys argument: Chinese tech platforms are so huge and so closely bound to the Chinese government that breaking Facebook up would weaken a key American industry and cede the global market to China, thus weakening the US.) And Zuckerberg is the guy, after all, who was once so eager to crack open the worlds most populous market that he reportedly asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to name his firstborn child. (Xi declined.)
Zuckerberg gave his speech at a time of deep, probably overdue, American concern about Chinese censorship coming home to roost on the wings of Western corporations. The issue burst onto the national stage in early October after the Houston Rockets general manager, Daryl Morey, tweeted in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. The furious reaction from the Chinese government and segments of the Chinese public, along with conciliatory statements by NBA players and officials, led to charges from figures across the American political spectrum that the league was placing money before the time-honored American value of free speech.
This was hardly the first example of an American or European company humbling itself to the Chinese government following an incident of freedom of expression. In 2018 alone, Gap apologized for selling a T-shirt in Canada that featured a map of China without Taiwan; Marriott apologized for listing Tibet and Taiwan as countries on a customer survey; Daimler apologized for using a quote from the Dalai Lama in a social media post; and several US airlines acceded to Chinese demands to remove references to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau from drop-down menus of countries on their websites. This year, Givenchy, Versace, and Coach lost all-important Chinese celebrity brand ambassadors after releasing T-shirts that listed Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as separate countries. They all apologized. Activision Blizzard not only apologized it even punished an esports player for expressing support for the Hong Kong protesters; it promised, on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo, to resolutely safeguard the countrys dignity.
The language on both sides of these flare-ups has been all about pride and disgrace, and who respects whom. Against the background of President Donald Trumps trade war, the apologetics have played in the American context as humiliations, exposures of the relative cheapness of the American value of free speech in an international marketplace with an irresistibly rich new buyer. (Its worth noting that maximizing shareholder value is also an American value.) Zuckerberg who once said Facebook is more like a government than a company came to Washington, DC, to announce that he had glimpsed a future where such humiliations are the rule and discovered that he runs a very American company after all.
"We are now in a position that we're much more free to stand up for what we believe in than the other companies," he reiterated in a conference call Wednesday.
To be clear: Facebooks vision of free speech is flawed, extravagantly so. But putting aside the opportunism of Zuckerbergs argument for a moment, which he made only after Facebook failed to enter the Chinese market and regulators began knocking on his door, his point about the vulnerability of the American model of free speech around the world is correct.
PostCold War narratives about the inevitable triumph of open societies and American mass culture have run aground. Authoritarian regimes that shutter universities and arrest journalists have prospered. China has become the world's second-largest economy through economic liberalization without democratic reform.
Meanwhile, the chaotically open and user-hungry communications platforms we have created and exported have inherent, obvious weaknesses: They are vulnerable to meddling, conducive to demagoguery, and damaging to social trust. They mishandle Americans data and broadcast the USs profound divisions throughout the world. And they now have a competitor that takes the flow of information very, very seriously.
A man walking past an image of China's President Xi Jinping on a propaganda billboard in Nuanquan in China's northern Hebei province.
In 2013, shortly after he took power, Xi addressed the CCPs top leadership behind closed doors. This summer, the CCPs main journal of political theory, Qiushi, published a version of that speech, titled Uphold And Develop Socialism With Chinese Characteristics. In the document, translated by Tanner Greer at Palladium Magazine, Xi presents the conflict between China and the West not as primarily economic but on the level of ideas: Why did the Communist Party of the Soviet Union fall to pieces? An important reason is that in the ideological domain, competition is fierce! ... This is a lesson from the past! ... For a fairly long time yet, socialism in its primary stage will exist alongside a more productive and developed capitalist system. In this long period of cooperation and conflict, socialism must learn from the boons that capitalism has brought to civilization economic, technological, and military might.
These warring philosophies, Xi suggests, will produce dueling systems of propaganda: We must face the reality that people will use the strengths of developed, Western countries to denounce our countrys socialist development. Here we must have a great strategic determination, resolutely rejecting all false arguments that we should abandon socialism. We must consciously correct the various ideas that do not accord with our current stage.
Xi has given contradictory statements about whether the CCP wants to export its system abroad. In 2017, he told a forum for foreign political groups that we will not import other countries models, and will not export the China model. Last year, in a speech to nonparty political advisers, he called the China model a new type of political party system that is a great contribution to political civilization of humanity a flourish that seemed to signal just the opposite.
Indeed, influential hardline theorists within the CCP have begun to predict a large-scale, neo-imperial struggle between the US and China to center the world around their respective values. In such a struggle, these values will clash and seek to eradicate each other, even in very small ways, like Gap T-shirts that dont respect Chinas territorial sovereignty.
Today, short of a hot war, a nation pushes itself into a broader space primarily through the export of its technology: infrastructure, equipment, consumer goods, cyberwarfare, social media, and all the permutations thereof. Unsurprisingly, many observers see Trumps trade war against China as primarily a technological one: pushing Chinese tech companies out of Western markets, forcing Western tech companies to stop doing business with Chinese ones, and blocking Chinese investments in the US tech sector.
The trade war isnt popular, and it has taken a financial toll on working Americans but that doesnt mean Chinese tech firms arent also American adversaries. The CCP very plainly sees its homegrown tech giants as vectors to advance what it defines as the national interest.
The leadership of Xi Jinping aspires to be a superpower in cyberspace in science and tech, Sacks, the New America fellow, told me. Creating national champion companies that can go out and be globally competitive is fundamental to that.
These arrangements arent just implied or hoped for; more often, theyre formalized and enforced. Under Xi, party membership has become even more of a professional boon. Private companies set up dedicated party cells to comply with Article 19 of Chinas corporate legal code, which requires companies [to] provide the necessary conditions for the Party organizations to carry out their activities. In practice, according to one China analyst, that has increasingly meant party members with influence over executive-level decision-making. Signs hung up around tech offices, according to the analyst, read This company will not betray party values.
On the one hand I have not gone looking for a document where they say tech companies should act as platforms to retransmit party values and norms, another China analyst at a major American think tank told me. On the other hand, that document probably exists because thats how they describe literally every other media platform. The party seeks to instrumentalize all of Chinese society as a vessel for its ambitions and preferred norms.
And when the CCP decides a tech platform is harming its ambitions, the consequences can be severe.
In April 2018, the Chinese government forced ByteDance the $75 billion company headquartered in Beijing that makes TikTok, the outrageously popular app for video sharing to shut down a popular app called Neihan Duanzi. Its infraction? Hosting lewd jokes and comments that obliquely poked fun at the CCP. After the shutdown, ByteDance CEO Zhang Yiming performed an elaborate apology in a public letter. Our product took the wrong path, and content appeared that was incommensurate with socialist core values, he wrote. In the future, he added, the company would further deepen cooperation with authoritative media.
For a comparison, imagine Jack Dorsey apologizing to Trump for all the sick owns by Twitter users, then offering to build deeper synergies with Fox News.
What exactly the CCPs ideological struggle as instrumentalized through tech platforms looks like beyond China's borders isnt yet clear.
Chuanying Lu, a research fellow at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies and a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told me that the international spread of its digital model is a much lower priority for the Chinese government than its domestic effect. "The data security, privacy, and social stability concerns are far more important than projecting influence around the world," he said.
But that doesn't mean it isn't happening. WeChat, the billion-user-strong Chinese messaging and payments app, has tens of millions of users outside of China. Media reports and China analysts both indicate that Tencent, the company that owns WeChat, has turned its frighteningly sophisticated censorship apparatus on foreign users by disallowing sensitive news stories and blocking dissidents who live overseas from sending messages.
Meanwhile, TikTok, the worlds most-downloaded app and Chinas greatest global social media success, has strenuously denied censoring users content about the Hong Kong protests. But TikToks algorithm, like those of Facebook and Twitter, is a black box, and its impossible to tell the degree to which it limits content that challenges the CCP narrative versus what is the mere result of normal algorithmic activity. Last week, the Washington Post reported that ByteDance exerts strict control over what content can appear on the US version of the app, following a Reuters report that the US government had opened a national security investigation into TikTok. President Trumps ban in May on American firms doing business with Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant, suggests that restrictions against Chinese-made social platforms, mirroring the Chinese bans on Twitter, Facebook, and Google, arent outside the realm of possibility.
But there are other markets: Turkey, Pakistan, Brazil, Nigeria, India. The whole rest of the world.
And the whole rest of the world can see exactly whats happening in the US. Its all right there, online. And when viewed without sentimentality about the primacy of the US and its values, the chaos machines of American social media become a much harder sell.
The US is in the midst of an identity crisis, one that has been hastened, for better or worse, by the mass use of largely unregulated social networks. Recently, a former Facebook executive encouraged me to think of our internet model as a proposition with costs and benefits. There are a lot of both.
Benefit: Americans have never had more information about their elected officials. Cost: Americans have never been more vulnerable to foreign influence in their elections. Benefit: Isolated young men find companionship in online affinity groups. Cost: Those affinity groups sometimes produce white nationalist terrorists. Americans have never heard more from politicians on social media. Americans have never heard more from politicians on social media. Et cetera.
It can be hard to know how to deal with the costs without canceling out the benefits; indeed, the openness of the American social networks can appear to be at once their greatest strength and most intractable weakness. And those weaknesses are real. Social trust in the US has imploded, and, according to a Pew poll, Americans list social media as the third-most-likely reason why (after Societal/political problems and Government activity/inactivity.)
The US is a mature, if imperiled, democracy, with strong, if imperiled, institutions. But other countries dont necessarily share Americans relative capacity for nonviolent social conflict. So when American platforms tout the benefits of the unregulated internet in foreign markets, it can sound insane, like a raving drunk urging you to take a swig of Jack Daniels.
We have pushed around the world an internet freedom agenda that says dont try too hard to control social media, Andrew Keane Woods, a law professor at the University of Arizona and a scholar of international law and technology, told me. Were still emphasizing a model of internet governance that was good for us when it was good for us.
The US government and US tech companies emphasize it not just through rhetoric about free speech, but through trade deals and enforcement decisions. Recent agreements with Mexico, Canada, and Japan have tucked in legal protections for internet companies based on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the controversial legislation that shields internet service providers from liability for content posted by third-party users. In other words: Your American speech device malfunctioned and hurt someone? Sorry, you cant sue us. And foreign governments have had a notoriously difficult time getting networks like Facebook and Twitter to comply with local laws in the interest of taking down content. Sometimes Twitter has a good reason for that; a government might spuriously label a rival political group a terrorist organization in order to get Twitter to remove its content. But at other times, governments have simply had to block or shut out entire American social networks to prevent the spread of violence.
I recently talked to an executive at a major American social platform who speculated that Chinese social networks would quickly comply with any takedown request from a non-Chinese government.
You will not see them battle for users, they said. How we respond to government requests is built around American notions of due process. Theyre not thinking about these as values-based decisions the way we are.
But the American tech platforms seem incapable of admitting that some governments and the people who support them may see authority and control as greater virtues than untrammeled speech or even human rights, especially when taking into account the bloody history of these platforms abroad. They facilitated the Arab Spring, yes. But also: They facilitated the Arab Spring! American social networks have fueled genocide in Myanmar, an authoritarian dystopia in the Philippines, and lynchings in India. I asked the same executive at a major social network what their companys value proposition would be compared to a hypothetical Chinese app that offers equivalent features, strong control, and pro forma takedowns. The answer was an appeal to incumbency. The rest of the world is on us, they told me.
The scale advantage is even more powerful in tech than it is elsewhere. Maybe thats the end of the conversation. But there is an irony to a Silicon Valley executive stressing incumbency as a sales pitch; if anyone should be afraid of a disruptor, offering a service no one else does, shouldnt it be them?
Yes, its true that most of the worlds people who go online do so via American internet companies. But its also true that these platforms are young, and they dont sell a physical product like the ones that led the globalization of American culture in the second half of the 20th century. They offer a service that to the vast majority of people in the world will look no different from a Chinese competitor.
That doesn't, of course, mean they're the same.
Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are in many cases not good actors, the China analyst at the major American think tank told me. They are not forthcoming about how information spreads on their platform. But they are still light-years better than any Chinese social media platform.
And yet, in a bipolar future where China wields economic clout comparable to that of the US, its easy to imagine governments choosing the devil they control over the devil they dont.
The values are so different, the analyst said. China has the juice to affect literally what path countries in Africa, Latin American, and the Middle East choose to take. The United States is never going to become an authoritarian country because of China, but hundreds of millions or billions of people will see their futures altered by the rise of this influence.
Last month, after the NBA and several of its stars publicly undermined Daryl Moreys support of the Hong Kong protesters, the American left and right united in their criticism. However briefly, they came together to heap scorn on so-called woke capitalism the practice of supporting progressive social causes as long as they dont hurt the bottom line, or indeed because they are good for it.
While it is easy to defend freedom of speech when it costs you nothing, equivocating when profits are at stake is a betrayal of fundamental American values, read a letter that was cosigned by eight members of Congress, including political foes Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The intensity of the reaction to the NBAs capitulation These spineless weaklings have shamed themselves and their country, read a column in the Washington Post at the time seemed to exceed mere patriotic indignation. Trump, who literally invites foreign powers to investigate his political enemies, has never drawn such a furiously nationalistic condemnation.
Remember, though, that the woke causes of NBA players tend to be issues of racial injustice, which threaten foundational American stories about equality and opportunity. Remember that this discourse plays out mostly on Twitter and Facebook. Indeed, there is a deeper factor at work here in this messy collision of our open model of cyber sovereignty and Chinas territorial aspirations: anger that Americans who persistently question the countrys legitimacy on American speech platforms wont in turn question the legitimacy of the CCP in the same way. More than that, there is anxiety, even shame, over a market-driven world order that doesnt revolve around US values. That the US has produced global brands the NBA and Facebook with a higher allegiance to the bottom line than to the flag is simply a tension inherent in the libertarian capitalist American ethos, one the Chinese government will never allow its corporations to have.
Heres another way of thinking about it. The Chinese Communist Party has built an internet with its own best interests at its core. US internet companies have built an internet with their best interests at their core. Where this gets complicated is when actors celebrities, brands, and tech companies themselves are torn between serving the interests of the Chinese Communist Party and those of the US internet companies. Yet absent any other imperative, they will likely follow the money.
This explains Zuckerbergs sudden patriotic turn. In a digital world increasingly drawn along allied national boundaries, it makes the most sense for his bottom line to be as big and as close as possible to the US government; something like a communications version of Boeing or Lockheed Martin. In a different tech sector, Amazon is already taking this path.
Breaking up our tech giants could absolutely have negative implications for our competition with China, which presents a far more coherent and predictable model of digital control.
US and Chinese tech companies are actively competing for users and advertising, so its naive to think that breaking up a large successful American tech company would have no impact on the economic Cold War being fought between the two countries, Matt Perault, the director of the Duke University Center for Science & Technology Policy and the former director of public policy at Facebook, told me recently.
But the cost of inaction might be worse.
A Facebook bloated from the government teat might never have to clarify its murky privacy and data collection policies, Samm Sacks, the New America fellow, said. This could precipitate a race to the bottom with China, in which the Zuckerbergs of the world use free speech as a fig leaf while exploiting their users more than ever; corporate overreach in the US would mirror state overreach in China. That would be an enormous propaganda victory for the CCP, which could then claim, cynically, that each countrys tech giants are equally dependent instruments of monolithic powers.
Indeed, the challenge for the American digital model in the future is to make the case that even in a time of extraordinary uncertainty around the world, freedom online is preferable to order.
And to deliver that message effectively, we first have to actually believe it.
Posted: October 27, 2019 at 3:30 pm
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Its been quite a week for free speech around these parts.
Earlier this week, we reported that information gathered from a public records request showed Chico Mayor Randall Stone, along with councilors Alex Brown and Scott Huber, had blocked people from their political Facebook pages, essentially depriving them of their First Amendment rights. And yesterday, we reported that councilor Sean Morgan admitted he had also blocked people as mayor, but no longer has a political Facebook page as a council member which is why we were unable to receive any information from him regarding our request.
Based on the information we have in hand, Stone was the biggest violator. Our list showed 19 people had been blocked from his Mayor Randall Stone page, and in the days that followed, two more people showed us proof they had been blocked as well.
The actions of Brown and Huber seem far less egregious. Brown blocked only one person and said it was because of hate speech a claim others have told us is accurate. Huber, the first to respond to our request, admitted to making five blocks (two people, three groups) before becoming aware of the possible legal issues, and hasnt done it since.
The other councilors either said they had never blocked anyone or didnt operate a political Facebook page.
The Facebook-block-fever then extended to Oroville, where one resident complained that councilor Linda Draper had blocked him from Facebook. We researched that and agreed with Drapers position that her Facebook page is personal, not political, so shes free to block anybody shed like.
Its been an astounding story to investigate and report. From our end, we contacted the editors of two dozen daily newspapers (from Los Angeles to the Oregon border) and asked each if theyd received any complaints from readers about any local elected official blocking them on Facebook. Not a single one had heard such a thing; a grand total of one said hed gotten one complaint from one reader saying a mayor (in Southern California) had blocked him on Twitter.
That was it.
Violating the free speech rights of citizens is not a charge we take lightly. The fact that it didnt seem to be happening anywhere else definitely not to this extent made our jaws drop. So we did a lot of investigating, and a lot of reporting on the multi-leveled-layers of legalities surrounding the issue, and ran the story.
We recognize theres a lot of new here, for the politicians as well as us. It can take a while to decipher the difference between a private Facebook page and that of a government actor who is discussing official duties on a public profile. And, we are encouraged by the actions taken by our Chico councilors; theres been a lot of unblocking going on lately. (And, we trust other local elected officials have learned from this, because chances are we havent filed our last public records request.)
Stone said he first began unblocking people after a city attorney told him blocking was a path best avoided. And, to his credit, Stone has forcefully spoken out from the dais in favor of the rights of people to have their say at council meetings in the past even if it sometime wanders too close to offensive territory. So, we know he gets that part. After our stories, we hope all elected officials understand those rights drift over into the social-media realm, too.
Because, remember, thats why the First Amendment was written to protect speech that is controversial.
After all, no one ever complains about the other kind.