ACLU Joins Other Civil Libertarians In Warning About Dangers Of Censorship On Social Media

Censorship on social media has been an ongoing problem involving people on both the left and the right, but the recent banning of Alex Jones has increased attention to the issue. While many civil libertarians have seen the dangers, others have allowed their views of Alex Jones to distract from the urgent civil liberties issues at stake. Attacks on civil liberties have often started with unpopular targets, and then extending to others. The American Civil Liberties Union has warned about the worrisome implications:

Several companies, including Facebook and YouTube, have removed Jones and his radio show for violating their hate speech policies. But doing so may set a dangerous precedent, according to Ben Wizner, director of ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.

As private institutions, these sites have the constitutional right to decide whether to host Jones. But a hate speech policy defining when an individual warrants being banned could be “misused and abused,” Wizner told HuffPost on Monday.

“If [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions, for example, were deciding what’s hate speech, he would be less likely to think KKK and more likely to think [Black Lives Matter],” Wizner said. “It turns out to be an extremely subjective term.”

“I have some of the same concerns about platforms making those decisions,” he added. “Governments at least purport to be acting solely in the public interest, but platforms are making these decisions based on what’s in their financial interest. So their interest might be in avoiding controversy, but do we want the most important speech platforms in the world to avoid controversy?”

“Who should decide what’s fake? … It’s not so easy to do in a way that is objective,” he said. “If these platforms get in the business of trying to be the arbiters of truth or falsity, pretty soon everyone is going to have something to complain about.”

“Do we really want corporations that are answerable to their shareholders and their bottom lines being the ones who decide which political speech Americans should see or not see?” he added. “Because that’s what we’re asking for here.”

Some have questioned whether this is a civil liberties issue as on the surface it involves private companies as opposed to the government. The point is not that whether this is a First Amendment issue, but that our concept of censorship and the First Amendment must be updated due to how social media is being used by government to restrict speech. Social media has become the equivalent of the old fashioned town square. When we have a near monopoly controlling social media on the internet (which happened to be developed with taxpayer’s money), and government then instructs these companies to restrict the speech of people, it can be more dangerous than our conventional concept of censorship. Making matters worse, there is no due process when done with supposedly private companies in this manner.

The purpose of the First Amendment was to protect free speech–not to give excuses to support censorship when it does not strictly fall under the wording of the First Amendment. Wired had  warnings about allowing Facebook to censor free speech, and responded to the argument that this is not a First Amendment issue:

The lamest of counterarguments to Zuckerberg’s absolutist position is the drearily predictable one of “the First Amendment doesn’t apply to companies.” It’s the nitpicky point of the eighth-grade know-it-all. How about I quarter troops from my private army in your house, and when you cite the Third Amendment, I’ll reply with “well, they’re not government troops,” and see how you feel about it?

Concepts like “trespassing” and “privacy” are not mentioned in the Constitution and did not then exist in the form we know today. We have extended the animating spirit of the Third and Fourth Amendments—respecting a person’s property and privacy—more broadly, because it’s a foundational value we want to see respected everywhere. Ditto the First Amendment: We want companies to embrace it too.

Internet censorship greatly increased as a result of pressure from Democrats who blame Russian ads and “fake news” for the defeat of Hillary Clinton, as opposed to being willing to acknowledge the serious problems in nominating Clinton, and the terrible campaign she ran, which caused her defeat. Clinton herself called on Congress to regulate what she considered to be fake news after her defeat–a rather serious attack on First Amendment rights.

It is easy to look the other way when someone as vile as Alex Jones is the target, but internet censorship has extended to many others on both the left and the right. If censorship is justified based upon expressing hatred, promoting violence, and spreading false information, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are far more dangerous. If kooky right wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones should be banned, the same could just as easily be said about kooky left wing conspiracy theorist Rachel Maddow, whose conspiracy theories risk starting a war with a nuclear power.

Before the government pushed internet companies to act as their censors, they preferred to be regarded as common carriers who are not responsible for regulating content. Either we go with that concept, or we have a handful of executives in Silicon Valley deciding what any of us can say. There is no middle ground. As Matt Taibbi pointed out, “as was obvious during the Senate hearing with Mark Zuckerberg earlier this year, politicians are more interested in using than curtailing the power of these companies. The platforms, for their part, will cave rather than be regulated. The endgame here couldn’t be clearer. This is how authoritarian marriages begin, and people should be very worried.”

After Alex Jones was removed by multiple social media companies, Senator Chris Murphy tweeted: “Infowars is the tip of a giant iceberg of hate and lies that uses sites like Facebook and YouTube to tear our nation apart. These companies must do more than take down one website. The survival of our democracy depends on it.”

Instead of falling into the trap of saying this is not a First Amendment issue as it is not the government doing the censorship (at least directly), we should be exerting pressure on both members of Congress and the social media companies to consider social media companies as common carriers rather than taking on the job of censoring speech. The alternative would be as if AT&T, when they had a monopoly, was also entrusted with determining what types of speech could be allowed over its telephone lines.

In a follow up article to the one I quoted from above, Taibbi wrote on this topic in greater detail:

Two weeks ago, we learned about a new campaign against “inauthentic” content, conducted by Facebook in consultation with Congress and the secretive think tank Atlantic Council — whose board includes an array of ex-CIA and Homeland Security officials — in the name of cracking down on alleged Russian disinformation efforts.­ As part of the bizarre alliance of Internet news distributors and quasi-government censors, the social network zapped 32 accounts and pages, including an ad for a real “No Unite the Right 2” anti-racist counter-rally in D.C. this past weekend.

Last week, we saw another flurry of censorship news. Facebook apparently suspended VenezuelaAnalysis.com, a site critical of U.S. policy toward Venezuela. (It was reinstated Thursday.) Twitter suspended a pair of libertarians, including @DanielLMcAdams of the Ron Paul Institute and @ScottHortonShow of Antiwar.com, for using the word “bitch” (directed toward a man) in a silly political argument. They, too, were later re-instated.

More significantly: Google’s former head of free expression issues in Asia, Lokman Tsui, blasted the tech giant’s plan to develop a search engine that would help the Chinese government censor content…

Both the Jones situation and the Facebook-Atlantic Council deletions seem an effort to fulfill a request made last year by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Last October, Facebook, Google and Twitter were asked by Hawaii Senator Mazie Hizono to draw up a “mission statement” to “prevent the foment of discord.”

Companies like Facebook might have balked before. They have long taken a position that’s very Star Trek, very Prime-Directive: We do not interfere. Mark Zuckerberg, as late as 2016, was saying, “editing content… that’s not us.”

…After Trump’s shocking win in 2016, everyone turned to Facebook and Google to fix “fake news.” But nobody had a coherent definition of what constitutes it.

Many on the left lamented the Wikileaks releases of Democratic Party emails, but those documents were real news, and the complaint there was more about the motives of sources, and editorial emphasis, rather than accuracy…

Within a year, Google bragged that it had deleted 8 million videos from YouTube. A full 6.7 million videos were caught by machines, 1.1 million by YouTube’s own “trusted flaggers” (we’re pre-writing the lexicon of the next dystopian novels), and 400,000 by “normal users.”

Subsequently, we heard that Facebook was partnering with the Atlantic Council — which, incidentally, accepts donations from at least 25 different foreign countries, including United Arab Emirates and the king of Bahrain, in addition to firms like weapons manufacturer Raytheon and my old pals at HSBC — to identify “potential abuse.”

…For more than half a century, we had an effective, if slow, litigation-based remedy for speech violations. The standards laid out in cases like New York Times v. Sullivan were designed to protect legitimate reporting while directly remunerating people harmed by bad speech. Sooner or later, people like Alex Jones would always crash under crippling settlements. Meanwhile, young reporters learned to steer clear of libel and defamation. Knowing exactly what we could and could not get away with empowered us to do our jobs, confident that the law had our backs.

If the line of defense had not been a judge and jury but a giant transnational corporation working with the state, journalists taking on banks or tech companies or the wrong politicians would have been playing intellectual Russian roulette. In my own career, I’d have thought twice before taking on a company like Goldman Sachs. Any reporter would.

Now the line is gone. Depending on the platform, one can be banned for “glorifying violence,” “sowing division,” “hateful conduct” or even “low quality,” with those terms defined by nameless, unaccountable executives, working with God Knows Whom…

Google and Facebook have long wrestled with the question of how to operate in politically repressive markets — Google launched a censored Chinese search engine in 2006, before changing its mind in 2010 — but it seems we’re seeing a kind of mass surrender on that front.

The apparent efforts to comply with government requests to help “prevent the foment of discord” suggest the platforms are moving toward a similar surrender even in the United States. The duopolistic firms seem anxious to stay out of headlines, protect share prices and placate people like Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who just said deleting Jones was only a “good first step.”

Americans are not freaking out about this because most of us have lost the ability to distinguish between general principles and political outcomes. So long as the “right” people are being zapped, no one cares.

But we should care. Censorship is one of modern man’s great temptations. Giving in to it hasn’t provided many happy stories.

Slate warned that, “placing the distribution of information in the hands of a few tech companies will remain a very big problem.”

Did anyone vote to make Google and Facebook monopolies. Did anyone vote to say we are going to make private actors make these decisions? There hasn’t been such a vote. People are just waking up to the fact that these guys are monopolies. People are just waking up to the fact that these guys have built these machines and amplified these kinds of voices. We only had our first major hearing in Congress last summer. This is pretty fresh, pretty new. I think if you put it to a vote, you sure as hell wouldn’t have anybody say, “We will choose these people to be our censors, we will choose these people to be our regulators.” And remember that this is a two-edged story. Any time you say that you are going to allow for this type of private action or private censorship, it is something that can be used against your friends next year, tomorrow.

Caitlin Johnstone, who herself was the target of internet censorship this month, further discussed how In A Corporatist System Of Government, Corporate Censorship Is State Censorship:

In a corporatist system of government, wherein there is no meaningful separation between corporate power and state power, corporate censorship isstate censorship. Because legalized bribery in the form of corporate lobbying and campaign donations has given wealthy Americans the ability to control the US government’s policy and behavior while ordinary Americans have no effective influence whatsoever, the US unquestionably has a corporatist system of government. Large, influential corporations are inseparable from the state, so their use of censorship is inseparable from state censorship.

This is especially true of the vast megacorporations of Silicon Valley, whose extensive ties to US intelligence agencies are well-documented. Once you’re assisting with the construction of the US military’s drone program, receiving grants from the CIA and NSA for mass surveillance, or having your site’s content regulated by NATO’s propaganda arm, you don’t get to pretend you’re a private, independent corporation that is separate from government power. It is possible in the current system to have a normal business worth a few million dollars, but if you want to get to billions of dollars in wealth control in a system where money translates directly to political power, you need to work with existing power structures like the CIA and the Pentagon, or else they’ll work with your competitors instead of you.

For more on this topic, I would also recommend the following video discussion with Glenn Greenwald (who has written extensively on civil liberties and social media), Sam Biddle, and Briahna Joy:

Federal Judge Rules That Trump Blocking Users On Twitter Is A Violation Of First Amendment Rights

Our ideas about freedom of speech and First Amendment rights need to evolve in this social media age. Almost a year ago I wrote about a lawsuit against Donald Trump for banning people from his Twitter feed. Usual ideas about a private Twitter account did not seem to apply in this case with Trump making frequent public proclamations on Twitter. Sean Spicer, while White House press secretary, had stated that Trump’s tweet’s should be considered official statements. A federal judge has issued a ruling that it is a violation of the First Amendment for Trump to ban people from his Twitter feed. The Hill reports:

A federal district court judge on Wednesday ruled that President Trump can’t block people from viewing his Twitter feed over their political views.

Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, said President Trump’s Twitter account is a public forum and blocking people who reply to his tweets with differing opinions constitutes viewpoint discrimination, which violates the First Amendment.

The court’s ruling is a major win for the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which brought the lawsuit on behalf of seven people who were blocked from the @realDonaldTrump account because of opinions they expressed in reply tweets.

Buchwald, who was appointed by former President Clinton, rejected Trump’s argument that the First Amendment does not apply in this case and that the president’s personal First Amendment interests supersede those of the plaintiffs.

She suggested in her 75-page opinion that Trump could have ignored his opponents’ reply tweets.

“No First Amendment harm arises when a government’s ‘challenged conduct’ is simply to ignore the [speaker], as the Supreme Court has affirmed ‘that it is free to do,’ ” she wrote. “Stated otherwise, ‘a person’s right to speak is not infringed when government simply ignores that person while listening to others,’ or when the government ‘amplifies’ the voice of one speaker over those of others.”

Buchwald explained that blocking someone on Twitter goes further than just muting them.

“Muting preserves the muted account’s ability to reply to a tweet sent by the muting account, blocking precludes the blocked user from ‘seeing or replying to the blocking user’s tweets’ entirely,” she said…

Josh Geltzer, executive director of Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, said the court’s ruling is a critical victory in preserving free speech in the digital age.

“The court’s thorough decision recognizes that the President’s use of @realDonaldTrump on Twitter makes it the type of public forum in which the government may not, under the First Amendment, silence its critics,” he said in a statement.

While this might help preserve free speech in the digital age, there are many other threats. While Facebook has come under intense scrutiny for its violations of the privacy of its users, I’ve considered the censorship of political views on both the left and right to be an even more serious threat to civil liberties in an era when communication on Facebook has become the digital equivalent of the old fashioned town square.

Further Evidence From Congress Shows No Evidence That Clinton Lost Election Due To Russia

While Hillary Clinton is on a world-wide bitterness tour to continue to give excuses for her loss, further evidence released from the Congressional investigations continues to show that Russia did not cause Clinton to lose. This includes both a review of the Facebook ads from the Internet Research Agency and the testimony regarding the Trump Tower meeting. Democratic attempts to blame Clinton’s loss on Russia, as opposed to Clinton’s own serious flaws and poorly run campaign, again fail to hold up.

USA Today reviewed the Russian ads which were released last week:

The roughly 3,500 Facebook ads were created by the Russian-based Internet Research Agency, which is at the center of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s February indictment of 13 Russians and three companies seeking to influence the election.

While some ads focused on topics as banal as business promotion or Pokémon, the company consistently promoted ads designed to inflame race-related tensions. Some dealt with race directly; others dealt with issues fraught with racial and religious baggage such as ads focused on protests over policing, the debate over a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico and relationships with the Muslim community.

The company continued to hammer racial themes even after the election.

USA TODAY NETWORK reporters reviewed each of the 3,517 ads, which were released to the public this week for the first time by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The analysis included not just the content of the ads, but also information that revealed the specific audience targeted, when the ad was posted, roughly how many views it received and how much the ad cost to post.

Among the findings:

  • Of the roughly 3,500 ads published this week, more than half — about 1,950 — made express references to race. Those accounted for 25 million ad impressions — a measure of how many times the spot was pulled from a server for transmission to a device.
  • At least 25% of the ads centered on issues involving crime and policing, often with a racial connotation. Separate ads, launched simultaneously, would stoke suspicion about how police treat black people in one ad, while another encouraged support for pro-police groups.
  • Divisive racial ad buys averaged about 44 per month from 2015 through the summer of 2016 before seeing a significant increase in the run-up to Election Day. Between September and November 2016, the number of race-related spots rose to 400. An additional 900 were posted after the November election through May 2017.
  • Only about 100 of the ads overtly mentioned support for Donald Trump or opposition to Hillary Clinton. A few dozen referenced questions about the U.S. election process and voting integrity, while a handful mentioned other candidates like Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush.

To repeat the key finding, out of approximately 3,500 ads, “Only about 100 of the ads overtly mentioned support for Donald Trump or opposition to Hillary Clinton.”

It is also to keep the impact of Facebook ads in perspective. While perhaps bombarding people’s newsfeeds with product ads might account for some sales, people are far less likely to change their views regarding political parties based upon a Facebook ad. As I noted previously, the Russian ads and other material accounted for a minuscule portion of overall Facebook content. Information previously released from the Congressional investigations found that this accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. Over half of the ads were not seen until after the election and, as is confirmed with this new data, most had nothing to do with promoting Trump over Clinton.

Earlier this year Philip Bump reviewed the data and noted that the ads did not target the swing states which affected the election, with larger numbers of ads being targeted to users in states such as New York and Texas. After reviewing the evidence, Bump concluded, “There’s still little evidence that Russia’s 2016 social media efforts did much of anything.” He also wrote, “As it stands, the public evidence doesn’t support the idea that the Russians executed a savvy electoral strategy on social media to ensure Trump’s victory. In fact, it seems less the case that they did so now than seemed might be possible back in July.”

Russia’s use of Facebook for propaganda appears to just be an updating of the propaganda methods used by both Russia and the United States against each other for decades. There is no evidence that this was a unique effort to attack Hillary Clinton or anything which impacted the election results. While it raises some concern that they are attempting to increase racial tensions, this is also nothing new. Actual racism in the United States, including American news footage of violence against minorities by police officers, is also likely to be far more damaging to race relations than anything coming from Russia.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also released 2,500 pages of congressional testimony today regarding the Trump Tower meeting. This confirms what we already knew that Donald Trump, Jr. attended the meeting hoping to receive dirt on Clinton. While his actions might be unethical, and possibly in violation of elections laws, again there is no evidence that this had any effect on the election results. As The Washington Post found in reviewing the testimony, “the meeting was a bust.” Trump failed to obtain the desired information on Clinton. There is evidence that at least some in the Trump family and campaign were willing to collude with Russia and even attempted to collude with Russia. There is no evidence of any actual collusion or any actions with Russia which affected the election results.

Do The Morons Running Facebook Really Think They Are Fighting Spam When They Censor Political Views?

Facebook has released ts first quarterly Community Standards Enforcement Report, bragging about how they have closed fake accounts and shut down spam. Never mind that much of what they block includes political views on both the left and right which vary from their establishment Democratic Party views, along with certain verboten topics which I will not list here to decrease the risk that this is censored from Facebook groups. While Facebook brags about eliminating spam, among the “spam” they have censored this year has been this post on the corporate money being taken by members of the party with the donkey symbol, even when they make noise about not taking corporate money. That post was enough to put me in Facebook Jail for three days, and I have any Facebook friends who have spent far more time there this year.

The Guardian has more on the report:

In its first quarterly Community Standards Enforcement Report, Facebook said the overwhelming majority of moderation action was against spam posts and fake accounts: it took action on 837m pieces of spam, and shut down a further 583m fake accounts on the site in the three months. But Facebook also moderated 2.5m pieces of hate speech, 1.9m pieces of terrorist propaganda, 3.4m pieces of graphic violence and 21m pieces of content featuring adult nudity and sexual activity…

Facebook also managed to increase the amount of content taken down with new AI-based tools which it used to find and moderate content without needing individual users to flag it as suspicious. Those tools worked particularly well for content such as fake accounts and spam: the company said it managed to use the tools to find 98.5% of the fake accounts it shut down, and “nearly 100%” of the spam.

Automatic flagging worked well for finding instances of nudity, since, Schultz said, it was easy for image recognition technology to know what to look for. Harder, because of the need to take contextual clues into account, was moderation for hate speech. In that category, Facebook said, “we found and flagged around 38% of the content we subsequently took action on, before users reported it to us”.

Facebook has made moves to improve transparency in recent months. In April, the company released a public version of its guidelines for what is and is not allowed on the site – a year after the Guardian revealed Facebook’s secret rules for content moderation.

Either their AI-based tools are failing miserably with an incredible amount of false positive results or they are failing to disclose their true criteria for blocking material on Facebook. Either way, it is a serious problem with a site which has become a major avenue for speech around the world.

Housekeeping Note

Posting will be down the next few days while I am out of town (more on Saturday), but I do have some brief items which will be posted. This includes SciFi Weekend. An abbreviated post will probably be done on Monday.

Warning Will Robinson: Axios Says “A new Clinton wave is coming this spring”

Sounding as ominous as a warning of an impending swarm of locusts, Axios writes today, “A new Clinton wave is coming this spring.” They go on to say, “The Clinton family has made sporadic and often subdued appearances in the 18 months (538 days) since Hillary Clinton lost her presidential election. But we’re about to see a lot more of them this spring.”

The post notes that, “This family has been on the national stage for 26 years — all or most of the lifetime of anyone under 50.” Yet the nightmare never ends, even if “plenty of top Democrats we talk to would prefer new energy and faces to Clinton nostalgia/redemption.”

They report that:

Longtime Clinton supporters last week received an invitation offering access to the family (the green invitation features photos of Bill, Hillary and Chelsea) at a Clinton Foundation benefit on May 24 in New York, at prices ranging from $2,500 (“Friend”) for cocktail party and dinner, up to $100,000 (“Chair”) for “Leadership.”

There have already been reports that Hillary Clinton plans to reenter politics. Axios warns:

Hillary Clinton this morning will lead the first meeting of her Onward Together political group, on New York’s Upper East Side. She and Howard Dean will welcome 11 partner organizations for a day of sessions “about harnessing the energy and activism post-election.” In the afternoon, the groups have the chance to meet with 150 donors. Last year, OT had 33,000 donors and gave over $1 million to partner groups. The group says that figure will be higher for midterms this year.

Remember when Howard Dean claimed to be a peace candidate, before he became a lobbyist for the health care industry, opposing Bernie Sanders’ proposal for a single payer health plan, and before he started working with ultra-hawk Hillary Clinton?

In addition to Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean pretending they are not has-beens, Bill will have a novel which was written with James Patterson coming out on June 4.

They call Chelsey a “prolific tweeter.” She has been tweeting those who talk about Amy Chozick’s new book, Chasing Hillary. That is the book with inside information, such as Hillary Clinton complaining to her campaign staff, “I Am Getting Pretty Tired of Hearing About How Nobody Likes Me.”

Skimming the book I found other huge revelations, such as how her friends talked about her: “Even Hillary’s close girlfriends describe her as mercurial. Each morning, aides would announce Hillary’s mood as if it were the weather. Crabby with a chance of outburst . . .” Amy Chozick is no T.H. White.

Why Don’t We Hear Messages Like This From The Party Of The Resistance?

The Democratic Party has struggled to come up with a response to Donald Trump on Syria. While some disagree, they cannot come up with a unified opposition to the air strikes or intervention, so they limit their opposition to complaining that Trump failed to get Congressional approval. This is no surprise considering that their last presidential candidate had advocated far greater military interventionism than Trump, and previously attacked Obama for not pursing greater intervention based upon an extremely irrational argument.

While anti-war voices are rare, here is an example of a conservative who is making far more sense than most of the Democrats:

The U.S. military presence in Syria is illegal, and the same would be true of any occupying force provided by U.S. clients. Instead of looking for a substitute occupation force or maintaining one of our own, the U.S. should accept that controlling any part of Syria is not worth the costs and risks that go along with it. The U.S. has no business fighting in Syria, and it has no authority to keep its forces there, so a complete withdrawal from Syria is the only appropriate and legal course of action open to the U.S.

Unfortunately this is from a conservative blogger (Daniel Larison), and not someone who represents the policy of either political party. He wrote this in concluding a post on how Trump’s idea of having other countries replace US troops is not working.

Shouldn’t we be hearing more like this from the party which is supposedly the opposition party in Congress? We hear virtually noting from the party which claims to be “the resistance.” Instead the “opposition party” is being led by cowards who prefer to keep any real opposition voices from running.

A Look At Bernie TV

While we don’t have Bernie Sanders in the White House, but we can see much more of him on line. New York Magazine has a feature on Bernie Sanders’s digital media empire. Here are some excerpts from a much longer article:

The Vermont senator, who’s been comparing corporate television programming to drugs and accusing it of creating a “nation of morons” since at least 1979 — and musing to friends about creating an alternative news outlet for at least as long — has spent the last year and a half building something close to a small network out of his office in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill…

Sanders hosts an interview show (“The Bernie Sanders Show”) that he started streaming over Facebook Live on a semi-regular basis after his staff got the idea in February of 2017 to film the senator chatting with the activist Rev. Dr. William Barber. After they posted that simple clip and it earned hundreds of thousands of views with no promotion, they experimented with more seriously producing Sanders’s conversation days later with Bill Nye.

The chat with the Science Guy ended up with 4.5 million views. Sensing an opportunity, the next day Sanders’s aides turned down multiple network TV requests and took his response to Trump’s first address to Congress directly to his Facebook page.

Things escalated. Audio recordings of his conversations, repackaged as a podcast, have since occasionally reached near the top of iTunes’ list of popular programs. Sanders’s press staff — three aides, including Armand Aviram, a former producer at NowThis News, and three paid interns — published 550 original short, policy-focused videos on Facebook and Twitter in 2017 alone. And, this year, he has begun experimenting with streaming town-hall-style programs on Facebook. Each of those live events has outdrawn CNN on the night it aired.

“The idea that we can do a town meeting which would get a significantly larger viewing audience than CNN at that time is something I would not have dreamed of in a million years, a few years ago,” Sanders says…

Sanders’s splashiest offerings are the spare 30-minute interviews with figures like Nye, Al Gore, and Bill de Blasio conducted in a small Senate studio. But the bulk of his programming are the short, tightly produced, and highly shareable videos that cover everything from Trump administration greed and lessons to learn from Canada’s health-care scheme to explainers from his staff (“John Bolton Should Scare Everyone,” says his foreign policy adviser in one recent offering) and real people’s straight-to-camera testimonials about their experiences with health care or tax systems. Only around one-quarter of the videos feature Sanders himself, though each is branded with his name…

As with everything Sanders does in the Trump age, the question his allies and enemies are now considering is what it all means if he runs for president again. Sanders would be 79 on Inauguration Day 2021, but he’s held rallies across the country since his last run, and he’s convened his top advisers to discuss what such a campaign would look like.

His newfound ability to reach masses of voters directly doesn’t explicitly play into his electoral considerations, Weaver told me. But it looms large: The political team’s major project since that race has been to maximize Sanders’s ability to drive his movement forward directly, whether it’s through his videos or Our Revolution, the post-campaign political group it started.

Edward Snowden Joins Civil Liberties Groups In Protesting Restrictions On Free Speech In Russia

Edward Snowden has joined civil liberties organizations including Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Freedom of the Press Foundation in condemning Russia for its attempts to suppress a widely used messenger app used to avoid government monitoring of communications. Newsweek reports:

Whistleblower Edward Snowden has backed a prominent critic of the Kremlin in a tense standoff between Russian authorities and a private messaging app used by millions.

The National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower, who fled to Russia from the U.S. in 2013, risked the wrath of the Kremlin when he tweeted his support on Tuesday for messaging app Telegram and its founder Pavel Durov, who is flouting a government request to cease operations in Russia.

“I have criticized Telegram’s security model in the past, but Durov’s response to the Russian government’s totalitarian demand for backdoor access to private communications—refusal and resistance—is the only moral response, and shows real leadership,” Snowden wrote on Twitter.

The messenger tool is facing a formal ban from Russia’s state watchdogs for refusing to allow authorities access to users’ private conversations, despite numerous requests. A Russian court ruled in favor of the ban last week, after authorities argued that Telegram’s encrypted chat feature could be used for criminal or terrorist activities.

Telegram’s privacy is one of its main selling points, and foiling Russian security agents’ attempts to eavesdrop on private chats was part of its raison d’etre, Durov has previously said. The Russian-born developer has refused to comply with the government’s demands and recently pledged millions of dollars toward a “digital resistance” to circumvent the ban.

Durov has said the ban has not resulted in a major disruption of Telegram’s operations, as social media users have shared tips online on tools that help inoculate against blocking the app. The most widely cited tool appears to be the use of so-called VPN anonymizers, which disguise an internet user’s location and allow residents of Russia to access the internet as though they were abroad.

Snowden has also retweeted posts opposing the suppression of Telegraph from civil liberties organizations.

Bloomberg notes that Google and Amazon have become involved in the fight:

Russia’s attempts to ban access to the Telegram messaging service threaten to drag U.S. tech giants including Alphabet Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. into the war with founder Pavel Durov as he turns to proxy servers to bypass the blocking measures.

Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor has already blocked 18 Google and Amazon sub-networks that Telegram used to avoid restrictions, the watchdog’s head Alexander Zharov told the Izvestia daily on Wednesday. More than 15 million IP addresses were blocked as a result, making some third-party internet resources unavailable in Russia, according to Qrator Labs.
 Durov rejected as “unconstitutional” Russian officials’ demands to turn over encryption keys to allow the Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, to access users’ messages on Telegram to intercept communications of terrorists. Roskomnadzor started blocking access to the messenger on Monday, after a Moscow court ruled last week that Durov was in breach of Russian law.

Telegram’s Russian founder fought back, offering to pay administrators of proxy servers in bitcoins to help bypass restrictions and saying he plans to spend millions of dollars on what he called “Digital Resistance.” Telegram “remained available for the majority of Russia’s residents” despite the blocking attempts, Durov said Wednesday on Twitter.

Snowden also tweeted, “Journalists working the story of being blocked in Russia should be absolutely clear that if and halt its access to their cloud platform or remove the app from their stores, they are witting collaborators in a censorship campaign, not victims of it.”

In related news, The Verge reports that recent actions by Google to discontinue domain-fronting will hinder attempts at circumventing censorship:

App developers won’t be able to use Google to get around internet censorship anymore. The Google App Engine is discontinuing a practice called domain-fronting, which let services use Google’s network to get around state-level internet blocks.

The article quotes Access Now in protesting this change:

“Google has long claimed to support internet freedom around the world, and in many ways the company has been true to its beliefs,” said Nathan White of Access Now. “Allowing domain fronting has meant that potentially millions of people have been able to experience a freer internet and enjoy their human rights. We urge Google to remember its commitment to human rights and internet freedom and allow domain fronting to continue.”

(more…)

Matt Taibbi Tries To Explain Why We Should Avoid War With A Nuclear Power

Add Matt Taibbi to those I mentioned yesterday warning about going to war in Syria. He has an article in Rolling Stone entitled,  If We’re on the Brink of War, the Fault Is Ours, Not Trump’s or Bolton’s.

So here we are, on the brink. Here’s Donald Trump’s tough-ass tweet about how he’s about to mix it up with both Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Russia’s Vladimir Putin:

Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!  –Donald J. trump 

The fate of humanity now rests in the hands of this Twitter-obsessed dingbat executive and his new national security adviser, John Bolton – one of the most deranged people to have ever served in the United States government, a man who makes Jeane Kirkpatrick look like Florence Nightingale.

With these two at the helm, we are now facing the imminent possibility of direct military conflict with a nuclear enemy. No one in the popular press is saying it, but there could easily be Russian casualties in Trump’s inevitable bombing campaign. Which will then put the onus on a third lunatic, Vladimir Putin, to respond with appropriate restraint.

Ironically, pretty much the only places where you will read today about the frightening possibility of Russian casualties are in military journals, in the nervous musings of Pentagon officials. Here and there you will see reports of concern about what might happen if we kill the wrong Russians, or the wrong quantity of Russians. One outlet calmly suggested the Russians might step up “harassment” of U.S. warplanes and outposts if we kill too many of theirs, as if this would not cause the whole world to soil itself in terror.

So to recap: the most terminally insecure president ever sits in the White House, advised by one of the most war-crazy hacks in the history of federal service, at the outset of a fully avoidable proxy war with an enemy that possesses thousands of lethal thermonuclear warheads aimed directly at us.

Bear in mind that virtually any exchange of nuclear missiles between these two countries would mean the absolute end of civilization. We could all, right now, be minutes away from the end of everything, especially given who holds the respective buttons.

Taibbi notes that there was hope for a different outcome:

But we had a head start in dodging the bullet with Trump, as one of the few not-terrifying qualities he demonstrated as a candidate was his seeming reluctance to get into unnecessary wars. Trump was specifically on record as wanting to “stay out of Syria.”

Taibbi notes that Trump’s isolationism was “at least partly insincere.” He also notes that, “unlike his racism and xenophobia and lack of sympathy for the poor – issues where there are obvious currents visible in what passes for his mind – Trump is highly suggestible in matters military.”

Unfortunately any attempts to influence Trump have been in the wrong direction:

As president, however, the one time he received praise from the Washington consensus was when he bombed Assad last year. You might remember that as the time when Fareed Zakaria gushed on CNN, “Donald Trump became president tonight,” and a tumescent Brian Williams countered by calling the bombs “beautiful” 8 times in 30 seconds, quoting Leonard Cohen as he said, “I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.”

Taibbi next showed several examples of Trump receiving criticism for talking about leaving Syria and many, including Democrats like Howard Dean, taking the wrong position. Taibbi wrote:

“Trump’s Syria Policy Isn’t Retrenchement, It’s Pandering,” sneeredForeign Policy.

“Chaos reigns with his president,” said Hawaii Democrat Mazie Hirono, calling the withdrawal plan “incoherent.”

Howard Dean, a man I once voted for because he at least tepidly opposed a pointless Middle Eastern war, decided to use this occasion to taunt Trump in schoolyard fashion.

“Why are you such a wimp for Assad and Putin?” Dean tweeted.

This is just one of the reasons why I am glad I did not trust or vote for Howard Dean in 2004.

Taibbi concluded by repeating the consequences of those who now advocate attacking Syria over the alleged poison gas attack:

One could maybe understand this attitude from millennials, who weren’t raised amid The Day After or “99 Luftballoons” or “1999” or Failsafe or Dr. Strangelove even, and have never experienced even fake angst about growing up under the specter of nuclear war. But all the preceding generations should know better. We all grew up aware it could all be over in a heartbeat.

This is probably the most serious showdown between nuclear powers since the Cuban missile crisis, or at the very least, the shooting down of Korean Airlines flight 007 in 1983.

The oft-derided Doomsday Clock, kept by the Union of Atomic Scientists, describes us as closer to nuclear war than at any time since 1953, when both the U.S. and the Soviet Union tested thermonuclear weapons for the first time. “The continued existence of urban, technological civilization will soon hang in a precarious balance,” the Scientists predicted then…

That Trump might forget the awesome danger of nuclear war is a given. The man is a fool. But what’s our excuse?

Taibbi’s Twitter page shows that many others are as foolish as Trump. For example: “Hacking our election was an act of war. No different than Pearl Harbor. I’d proudly fight if I were younger. Remember our Hillary!!! ”

Tabbi replied: “How do you think war with Russia goes? With rifles and bayonets, like at Iwo Jima? This is the nuclear age. In the best case, it’s a big noise, most everyone dies, and the lucky ones get fifty years of MREs.”

Remember Hillary? The ultra-hawk who is just barely less dangerous than John Bolton? She’s the one who supported Syria bombing last year, and who previously supported greater intervention in Syria, which would have placed us at considerable risk of confrontation with Russia. To compare trivial meddling in the election, which had no effect on the result, to Pearl Harbor is utterly insane. Yet many have been making exactly that comparison, or comparing it to 9/11.

Another uninformed reader tweeted, “Putin’s possession of nukes does not mean he intends upon using them or HAS THE CAPABILITY OF USING THEM. Putin actually believes his delivery systems are worthless for the exact same reason that i do. our missile defenses are much further developed than disclosed.”

Does anyone in their right mind really think that it is worth risking a nuclear attack?

As I tweeted and posted on Facebook: “My opposition to going to war with a nuclear power over inconsequential Facebook ads or even a suspected poison gas attack does not mean I support either Putin or Assad. It means I oppose the destruction of the earth in a nuclear holocaust.