Friday, September 29, 2023

Elon Musk’s X cuts staffers on election misinformation team, claims they were ‘undermining election integrity’

Elon Musk’s social media company X, formerly Twitter, is slashing more than half of its team tasked with fighting misinformation tied to elections ahead of the 2024 presidential election, according to a report.

X cut four election integrity staffers, including the team’s head, based in Ireland, UPI reported citing a report from The Information.

The social media platform’s executives told the team in Dublin that “having integrity employees based in Europe wasn’t necessary,” the outlet reported, citing three people familiar with the matter.

The firings mean the team has been cut to less than half in North America, the outlet reported.

Musk appeared to confirm the report on X Wednesday.

“Oh you mean the ‘Election Integrity’ Team that was undermining election integrity? Yeah, they’re gone,” he tweeted.




Wednesday, September 27, 2023

A Disturbing Amount of Democrats, Young People Want Government Censorship

Democrats and young people – who often are of the same group – have had an increasingly disturbing preference for government censorship as opposed to believing in free speech, even though it was once the other way around. So strong is the fear of that boogeyman of "misinformation" that the Biden administration bullied social media platforms into colluding to censor Americans over COVID, even for information that wasn't actually false. The Biden administration has faced losses in the courts (Missouri v. Biden) when it comes to censorship, and we're now waiting to see if the U.S. Supreme Court, which put the decision on hold earlier this month, will weigh in.

RealClear Opinion Research did a poll on free speech and censorship that was recently released. Fortunately, over 90 percent of respondents responded that free speech is a good thing. "This is agreed upon across the demographics, like party affiliation, age, and race," poll director Spencer Kimball said.

Notable partisan differences do exist, though. The poll's write-up included a headline asking, "Is Censorship a Partisan Issue?" It would appear that that is indeed the case. When it comes to those demographics mentioned above, however, here are some troubling takeaways, with added emphasis:

Painting with a broad brush, Democrats grant significantly more deference to government than do Republicans when it comes to regulating free speech. This wasn’t the only fault line revealed by the RCP survey.

Some of what is dividing these differences is generational, as Millennials and Gen-Z have come of age in a digital age environment in which reasonable expectations of privacy seem a relic of the past. “Those under 30 are most open to censorship by the government,” Kimball noted, adding that 42% of this cohort deem it “more important” to them that the government protect national security than guard the right to free expression. Among those over 65 years old, the corresponding percentage was 26%.


Although majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents agree the news media should be able to report stories they believe are in the national interest, this consensus shifts when it comes to social media censorship. A majority of Democrats (52%) approve of the government censoring social media content under the rubric of protecting national security. Among Republicans and independents, this percentage is only one-third.

Poll respondents were read this statement: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Only 31% of Democratic voters “strongly agreed” with that sentiment, compared to 51% of Republicans.

Fully three-fourths of Democrats believe government has a responsibility to limit “hateful” social media posts, while Republicans are more split, with 50% believing the government has a responsibility to restrict hateful posts. (Independents, once again, are in the middle.)

As the poll's write-up acknowledges, "Democrats grant significantly more deference to government." That's certainly a concern, not merely because it highlights how the party that once did no longer prioritizes free speech, but because it's worth asking where the line is drawn.

Here's the wording of certain questions, which are chillingly vague. "Do you think the government has a responsibility to restrict hateful posts and disinformation on social media platforms or should they be an open forum of free speech even if that speech is hateful or inaccurate?" one question asked. A majority of all respondents, 61.3 percent of them, answered that the government does.

"Which is better - allowing free speech without government interference or letting the government decide what types of hateful or inaccurate speech should be banned?" another question asked. Over three-fourths of all respondents, 76.7 percent, chose the former.

Other questions asked about national security, but again, that's not defined.

"Which is more important to you: that the government be able to censor news stories it feels threaten national security or that people may be able to report stories they feel are in the national interest?" one question asked. A majority, at 68.4 percent, chose the latter.

Another question similarly asked, "Which is more important to you: that the government be able to censor users/content on social media platforms it feels threaten national security, or that the social media users be able to post content they feel are in the national interest?" A majority, at 59.2 percent, still chose the latter.

Concerns with what happens when stories are censored aren't just hypotheticals.

Recall how just weeks before the 2020 presidential election, the Hunter Biden laptop story covered by the New York Post was censored over social media at the behest of the Biden campaign. We were told at the time that it was a Russian disinformation campaign, with so-called security experts signing on to testify as much. The effort was led by now Secretary of State Antony Blinken. It wasn't until over a year later that mainstream media outlets, such as the Washington Post, admitted what so many of us already knew to be true.

Polls have shown that had more people known about the story, it might have changed the outcome of the election.

It was the Republican-controlled House that called for a hearing on government censorship, which the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government did in July. Democrats on the committee were all too happy to let their pro-censorship colors show.

The poll also looked to whether or not respondents felt "Conservatives are unfairly censored on social media platforms" and if "Liberals are unfairly censored on social media platforms."

The breakdowns are illuminating. While a plurality of respondents, at 29.3 percent said they "somewhat agree" that conservatives are "unfairly censored," a plurality said the same thing about liberals, at 32.2 percent. While 26.6 percent said they "strongly" agree that conservatives are censored in such a way, just 11.6 said the same about liberals. A significant amount of respondents, 29.6 percent, said they "strongly disagree" that "Liberals are unfairly censored on social media platforms."

We know more about conservative accounts being censored from social media thanks to revelations from the Twitter Files and more recently the Facebook Files. Non-conservatives have been censored too, though, in the case of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is challenging President Joe Biden in the Democratic presidential primary.

Among those championing censorship are those that have gone after Townhall, such as the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), as the Facebook Files revealed. The CCDH website is a liberal, progressive activist's paradise for the pro-life issue, climate change, and vaccine skepticism.

The poll's write-up also acknowledges how "times change."

"On the issue of free expression, at least, Republicans are not the authoritarian party," the poll's write-up noted, perhaps in response to how those in the White House and other Democrats have lashed out at Republican-controlled states, like Florida, for daring to protect school children from sexually explicit content being freely available at the library. Liberals have thus claimed that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has been engaging in so-called book bans, despite him debunking that hoax.

As Guy pointed out when explaining leftist reactions to a supposed book ban, Florida law is a response to demands from parents who actually want to know what materials are available to their children. School districts must report to the state any books that parents have challenged as inappropriate, The Washington Times highlighted earlier this year about the law.

For over a year now, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) has gone after DeSantis, claiming there's more freedom in California than Florida, in part due to the controversy over so-called book bans.

It was just announced earlier on Monday that Newsom and DeSantis will debate one another on November 30.

"That distinction belongs to the Democrats, the party launched by Thomas Jefferson," the write-up goes on to mention, reminding how fiercely devoted to free speech the Founding Father was.

"This is a relatively new development. Traditionally, opposing censorship — whether imposed by government or corporations — was a bedrock principle of liberalism in this country."

Liberals are also opposing free speech when it comes to recent examples like Lorie Smith, who serves all customers but could not design a website celebrating a same-sex wedding since it conflicted with her sincerely held religious beliefs. The same goes for Jack Phillips, a baker who designs wedding cakes. Both have had wins at the U.S. Supreme Court, though liberal activists continue to force Phillips to be embroiled in legal controversies.




Burger King faces boycott after yanking ads from Rumble

Rumble is sticking to free speech but Burger King is not

Burger King is facing calls for a boycott after the fast-food giant yanked its ads from video platform Rumble shortly after Russell Brand — who broadcasts a show weekly on the site — was accused of raping and sexually assaulting four women, including a 16-year-old girl.

Though Burger King hasn’t publicly stated why it recently removed its adverts from the popular site — just as other brands like Asos and HelloFresh recently did — social media users have questioned the timing of the move, which came just one week after Brand came under fire.

The Whopper House has since been bashed for pulling its ads from the self-proclaimed “free speech platform” before Brand has actually been convicted.

“Burger King has pulled its ads from Rumble because the free speech platform refuses to play judge, jury, and executioner of Russell Brand after the UK Governor demanded the platform demonetize him,” fellow Rumble host Charlie Kirk tweeted on Sunday.

“Reminder, Brand has not been convicted of a single crime. Boycott @BurgerKing. They hate free speech and due process




Monday, September 25, 2023

Harvard’s Jacinda Ardern Calls on the United Nations to Crack Down on Free Speech as a Weapon of War

Jacinda Ardern may no longer be Prime Minister of New Zealand, but she was back at the United Nations continuing her call for international censorship. Ardern is now one of the leading anti-free speech figures in the world and continues to draw support from political and academic establishments.  In her latest attack on free speech, Ardern declared free speech as a virtual weapon of war. She is demanding that the world join her in battling free speech as part of its own war against “misinformation” and “disinformation.” Her views, of course, were not only enthusiastically embraced by authoritarian countries, but the government and academic elite.

In her speech, she notes that we cannot allow free speech to get in the way of fighting things like climate change. She notes that they cannot win the war on climate change if people do not believe them about the underlying problem. The solution is to silence those with opposing views. It is that simple.

While some of us have denounced her views as an attack on free expression, Harvard rushed to give her not one but two fellowships. While the free speech community denounced her for unrelenting attacks on this human right, Harvard praised her for “strong and empathetic political leadership” and specifically enlisted her to help “improve content standards and platform accountability for extremist content online.”

I actually have no objection to the inclusion of Ardern as a Harvard fellow. She is a former world leader who is leading the movement against free speech. It is a view that students should consider in looking at these controversies. However, Harvard has heralded her views with no acknowledgment of her extreme antagonism toward free speech principles. There is also little countervailing balance at the school with fellows supporting free speech as a human right. Rather, Harvard (which ranks dead last on the recent free speech survey) has become a virtual clearinghouse for anti-free speech academics and advocates.

Free speech is now commonly treated on campuses as harmful. Rather than the right that defines us, it is treated as an existential threat.

What is so chilling is to hear Ardean express her fealty to free speech as she calls on the nations of the world to severely curtail it to prevent people from undermining their policies and priorities. She remains the “empathetic” face of raw censorship and intolerance. She is now the virtual ambassador-at-large for global speech regulation and criminalization.




Sunday, September 24, 2023

Misinformation research is buckling under GOP legal attacks

The escalating campaign - led by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and other Republicans in Congress and state government - has cast a pall over programs that study not just political falsehoods but also the quality of medical information online.

Facing litigation, Stanford University officials are discussing how they can continue tracking election-related misinformation through the Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), a prominent consortium that flagged social media conspiracies about voting in 2020 and 2022, several participants told The Washington Post. The coalition of disinformation researchers may shrink and also may stop communicating with X and Facebook about their findings.

The National Institutes of Health froze a $150 million program intended to advance the communication of medical information, citing regulatory and legal threats. Physicians told The Post that they had planned to use the grants to fund projects on noncontroversial topics such as nutritional guidelines and not just politically charged issues such as vaccinations that have been the focus of the conservative allegations.

NIH officials sent a memo in July to some employees, warning them not to flag misleading social media posts to tech companies and to limit their communication with the public to answering medical questions.

"If the question relates in any way to misinformation or disinformation, please do not respond," read the guidance email, sent in July after a Louisiana judge blocked many federal agencies from communicating with social media companies. NIH declined to comment on whether the guidance was lifted in light of a September appeals court ruling, which significantly narrowed the initial court order.

"In the name of protecting free speech, the scientific community is not allowed to speak," said Dean Schillinger, a health communication scientist who planned to apply to the NIH program to collaborate with a Tagalog-language newspaper to share accurate health information with Filipinos. "Science is being halted in its tracks."

Academics and government scientists say the campaign also is successfully throttling the years-long effort to study online falsehoods, which grew after Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 election caught both social media sites and politicians unaware.

Interviews with more than two dozen professors, government officials, physicians, nonprofits and research funders, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss their internal deliberations freely, describe an escalating campaign emerging as online propaganda is rising.

Social media platforms have pulled back on moderating content even as evidence mounts that Russia and China have intensified covert influence campaigns; next week, the disinformation watchdog NewsGuard will release a study that found 12 major media accounts from Russia, China and Iran saw the number of likes and reposts on X nearly double after Musk removed labels calling them government-affiliated. Advances in generative artificial intelligence have opened the door to potential widespread voter manipulation. Meanwhile, public health officials are grappling with medical misinformation, as the United States heads into the fall and winter virus season.

Conservatives have long complained that social media platforms stifle their views, but the efforts to limit moderation have intensified in the past year.

The most high-profile effort, a lawsuit known as Missouri v. Biden, is now before the Supreme Court, where the Biden administration seeks to have the high court block a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit that found the White House, FBI and top federal health officials likely violated the First Amendment by improperly influencing tech companies' decisions to remove or suppress posts on the coronavirus and elections. That ruling was narrower than a district court's finding that also barred government officials from working with academic groups, including the Stanford Internet Observatory. But the Biden Justice Department argues the injunction still contradicts certain First Amendment principles, including that the president is entitled to use his bully pulpit to persuade American companies "to act in ways that the President believes would advance the public interest."

"The university is deeply concerned about ongoing efforts to chill freedom of inquiry and undermine legitimate and much needed academic research in the areas of misinformation - both at Stanford and across academia," Stanford Assistant Vice President Dee Mostofi told The Post. "Stanford believes strongly in academic freedom and the right of the faculty to choose the research they wish to pursue. The Stanford Internet Observatory is continuing its critical research on the important problem of misinformation."

Jordan has issued subpoenas and demands for researchers' communications with the government and social media platforms as part of a larger congressional probe into the Biden administration's alleged collusion with Big Tech.

"This effort is clearly intended to deter researchers from pursuing these studies and penalize them for their findings," Jen Jones, the program director for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental group that promotes scientific research, said in a statement.

Disinformation scholars, many of whom tracked both covid-19 and 2020 election-rigging conspiracies, also have faced an onslaught of public records requests and lawsuits from conservative sympathizers echoing Jordan's probe. Billionaire Elon Musk's X has sued a nonprofit advocacy group, the Center for Countering Digital Hate, accusing it of improperly accessing large amounts of data through someone else's license - a practice that researchers say is common. Trump adviser Stephen Miller's America First Legal Foundation is representing the founder of the conspiracy-spreading website, the Gateway Pundit, in a May lawsuit alleging researchers at Stanford, the University of Washington and other organizations conspired with the government to restrict speech. The case is ongoing.

Nadgey Louis-Charles, a spokeswoman for the House Judiciary Committee that Jordan chairs, said the Jordan-led investigation is focused on "the federal government's involvement in speech censorship, and the investigation's purpose is to inform legislative solutions for how to protect free speech."

"The Committee sends letters only to entities with a connection to the federal government in the context of moderating speech online," she said. "No entity receives a letter from the Committee without a written explanation of the entity's connection to the federal government."

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey (R) in a statement said the federal government "silenced" information because "it didn't fit their narrative."

"Missouri v. Biden is the most important First Amendment case in a generation, which is why we're taking it to the nation's highest court," he said.

"As a pro-democracy organization, American First Legal is committed to defeating the censorship-industrial complex that is crushing freedom and promoting dangerous conspiracy theories about Americans who dare to question government dogma," Miller said in a statement.

- - -

'A serious threat to the integrity of science'

In September 2022, an NIH council greenlit a $150 million program to fund research on how to best communicate health issues to the public. Administrators had planned the initiative for months, convening a strategy workshop with top tech and advertising executives, academics, faith leaders and physicians.

"We know there's a lot of inaccurate health information out there," said Bill Klein, the associate director of the National Cancer Institute's Behavioral Research Program at a meeting approving the program. He showed a slide of headlines about how online misinformation hampered the response to the covid-19 pandemic, as well as other public health issues, including gun violence and HIV treatment.

The program was intended to address topics vulnerable to online rumors, including nutrition, tobacco, mental health and cancer screenings such as mammograms, according to three people who attended a planning workshop.

Yet in early summer 2023, NIH officials contacted some researchers with the news that the grant program had been canceled. NIH appended a cryptic notice to its website in June, saying the program was on "pause" so that the agency could "reconsider its scope and aims" amid a heated regulatory environment.

Schillinger and Rich Barron, the CEO of the American Board of Internal Medicine, warned that the decision posed "a serious threat to the integrity of science and to its successful translation" in a July article in the JAMA. In an interview with The Post, Barron noted that there are limited sources of funding for health misinformation research.

NIH declined requests for an interview about the decision to halt the program, but spokesperson Renate Myles confirmed in an email that the Missouri v. Biden lawsuit played into the decision. Myles said a number of other lawsuits played a role but declined to name them.

Myles said the litigation was just one factor and that budgetary projections and consideration of ongoing work also contributed to the decision. She said that an initial approval of a concept does not guarantee it will be funded and that NIH currently funds health communication research. The agency does not officially release numbers about funding in the area, but she said a working group estimated that NIH spent $760 million over five years.

"NIH recognizes the critical importance of health communications science in building trust in public health information and continues to fund this important area of research," she said.

NIH and other public health agencies have also sought to limit their employees' communications with social media platforms amid the litigation, according to internal agency emails viewed by The Post that were sent in July after a Louisiana judge blocked many federal agencies from communicating with social media companies.

In one instance, an NIH communications official told some employees not to flag misleading social media posts to tech companies - even if they impersonated government health officials or encouraged self-harm, according to a July email viewed by The Post. The employees were told they could not respond to questions about a disease area or clinical trial if it did "relate in any way to misinformation or disinformation."

The Election Integrity Partnership may also curtail its scope following lawsuits questioning the validity of its work, including the Missouri v. Biden case.

Led by the Stanford Internet Observatory and the University of Washington's Center for an Informed Public, the coalition of researchers was formed in the middle of the 2020 presidential campaign to alert tech companies in real time about viral election-related conspiracies on their platforms. The posts, for example, falsely claimed Dominion Voting Systems' software switched votes in favor of President Biden, an allegation that also was at the center of a defamation case that Fox News settled for $787 million.

In March 2021, the group released a nearly 300-page report documenting how false election fraud claims rippled across the internet, coalescing into the #StopTheSteal movement that fomented the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol. In its final report, the coalition noted that Meta, X (formerly Twitter), TikTok and YouTube labeled, removed or suppressed just over a third of the posts the researchers flagged.

But by 2022, the partnership was engulfed in controversy. Right-wing media outlets, advocacy groups and influencers such as the Foundation for Freedom Online, Just the News and far-right provocateur Jack Posobiec argued that the Election Integrity Partnership was part of a coalition with government and industry working to censor Americans' speech online. (Posobiec didn't respond to a request for comment, but after this story was published online he posted the request on X with the comment: "Every one of these programs will be penniless and powerless by the time I am done.")

Louis-Charles, the Judiciary Committee spokeswoman, said in a statement that the universities involved with EIP "played a unique role in the censorship industrial complex given their extensive, direct contacts with federal government agencies."

The probe prompted members of the Election Integrity Partnership to reevaluate their participation in the coalition altogether. Stanford Internet Observatory founder Alex Stamos, whose group helps lead the coalition, told Jordan's staff earlier this year that he would have to talk with Stanford's leadership about the university's continued involvement, according to a partial transcript filed in court.

"Since this investigation has cost the university now approaching seven [figure] legal fees, it's been pretty successful I think in discouraging us from making it worthwhile for us to do a study in 2024," Stamos said.

Kate Starbird, co-founder of the University of Washington Center for an Informed Public, declined to elaborate on specific plans to monitor the upcoming presidential race but said her group aims to put together a "similar coalition . . . to rapidly address harmful false rumors about the 2024 election."

She added, "It's clear to me that researchers and their institutions won't be deterred by conspiracy theorists and those seeking to smear and silence this line of research for entirely political reasons."

Another participant in the Election Integrity Partnership, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the group was "looking at ways to do our work completely in the open" to avoid allegations that direct communications with the platforms are a part of a censorship apparatus.

The researchers have been encouraged by the recent ruling in the Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in the Missouri v. Biden litigation, which struck down a July 4 injunction that barred government officials from collaborating or coordinating with the Election Integrity Partnership, the Stanford Internet Observatory and other similar groups.

- - -

'Naughty & Nice List'

In recent weeks, Jordan has sent a new round of record requests to at least two recipients of grants from the National Science Foundation's Convergence Accelerator program, according to three people familiar with the matter.

The program, one of many run by the independent agency to promote research, awards funding to groups creating tools or techniques to mitigate misinformation, such as software for journalists to identify misinformation trending online.

George Washington University professor Jonathan Turley and the conservative advocacy group The Foundation for Freedom Online wrote separate reports portraying the program as an effort by the Biden administration to censor or blacklist American citizens online. Afterward, Jordan requested grant recipients' communications with the White House, technology companies and government agencies, according to two of the people.

Turley said in a statement that "free speech is a core value of higher education" and that he is concerned that universities are using partnerships with the government to silence some users.

"If universities are supporting efforts to regulate or censor speech, there should be both clarity and transparency on this relationship. In past years, academics have demanded such transparency in other areas of partnership with the government, including military research," Turley said. "Free speech values should be of equal concern to every institution of higher learning."

Some NSF grant recipients who have not received requests from Jordan's committee say they are facing a barrage of online threats over their work, which has prompted some to buy services that make it harder to find their addresses, such as DeleteMe.

Hacks/Hackers, a nonprofit coalition of journalists and technologists, received an NSF grant to develop tools to help people share accurate information about controversial topics, such as vaccine efficacy. The group has faced political scrutiny from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who tweeted they had received $5 million from President Biden to create "a naughty & nice list to police the content posted by family & friends" with her usual slogan "MakeEmSqueal."

Connie Moon Sehat, a researcher-at-large for the group, said she and other researchers have faced online attacks including threats to reveal personal information and veiled death threats. She says members of her team are at times under high levels of stress and having ongoing conversations about how to elevate accurate information on social media, as some platforms become increasingly toxic.

"We are double- and triple-checking what we write, above what we used to, to try to communicate our good intentions - in the face of efforts that willfully misconstrue our work and desire to serve the public," Sehat said. "And I worry more broadly that we researchers may self-censor our inquiry, or that some will drop out altogether, to stay safe."

As Jordan's probe expands, some university lawyers have urged academics to hold on to their records and be prepared to receive subpoenas from the committee, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The probe has sparked a wave of fear among university academics, prompting several to take a lower profile to avoid the scrutiny. Laura Edelson, an assistant professor of computer science at Northeastern University, recently left her role as chief technologist at the Justice Department's antitrust division. She said she tailored her job search to only private universities that are not subject to public records laws.

"I knew that because of the way our field is being attacked that the cost of the work I do is a lot higher at a public institution," she said. "I just didn't want to pay that cost, and that's why I only applied to private universities."

The left-leaning nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology argued in a Thursday report that the disinformation field is facing a dual threat: Social media platforms have become less responsive to concerns from researchers about misinformation while the political and regulatory backlash against the scholarship has eroded the relationships between academics, nonprofits and industry.

"The more efforts to recast counter-election-disinformation as censorship succeed, the more difficult it will become for governments and others to work with researchers in the field," wrote the nonprofit, which receives some of its funding from tech corporations, including Google and Meta.

The scrutiny has caught the academic community by surprise, as non-faculty staff and researchers debate how to protect themselves from new legal threats. When Dannagal Young, a professor of communication and political science at the University of Delaware, alerted university lawyers that she'd been asked to talk with Democratic congressional staffers about potentially testifying before Jordan's subcommittee, she felt her preparation was lacking.

While the lawyers were eager to help, according to Young, in their initial response they spent more time prepping her on how to discuss President Biden's relationship to the school than they did on what kinds of questions she might be asked on Capitol Hill.

"I don't think university lawyers are prepared to navigate that kind of politically motivated space," she said. The University of Delaware didn't respond to a request for comment.

Many academics, independent scholars and philanthropic funders are discussing how to collectively defend the disinformation research field. One proposal would create a group to gather donations into a central fund to pay for crisis communications and - most critically - legal support if one of them gets sued or subpoenaed in a private case or by Congress. The money could also fund cybersecurity counseling to ward off hackers and stalkers and perhaps physical security as well.

"There is this growing sense that there need to be resources to allow for freedom of thought and academic independence," said one longtime philanthropy grant maker who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.

University academics are also mulling ways to rebrand their work to attract less controversy. One leader in a university disinformation research center said scholars have discussed using more generic terms to describe their work such as "information integrity" or "civic participation online." Those terms "have less of a bite to them," said a person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak on the private discussions. Similar conversations are occurring within public health agencies, another person said.

"This whole area of research has become radioactive," the person said.




Thursday, September 21, 2023

A police raid of a Kansas newsroom raises alarms about violations of press freedom

Small town officials seemed to think that could make the law up as they went along.  The fact that the raid appears to have killed an old lady makes it all the more reprehensible

The judge who signed off on a search warrant authorizing the raid is facing a complaint about her decision and has been asked by a judicial body to respond. Kansas resident Keri Strahler filed the complaint against Judge Laura Viar

Law enforcement officers in Kansas raided the office of a local newspaper and a journalist's home on Friday, prompting outrage over what First Amendment experts are calling a likely violation of federal law.

The police department in Marion, Kansas — a town of about 2,000 — raided the Marion County Record under a search warrant signed by a county judge. Officers confiscated computers, cellphones, reporting materials and other items essential to the weekly paper's operations.

"It took them several hours," Eric Meyer, the Marion County Record's co-owner and publisher, told NPR. "They forbid our staff to come into the newspaper office during that time."

Local authorities said they were investigating the newsroom for "identity theft," according to the warrant. The raid was linked to alleged violations of a local restaurant owner's privacy, when journalists obtained information about her driving record.

Publisher says raid contributed to his mother's death
Meyer's mother, Joan Meyer, collapsed and died one day after police raided her home, the Record reported in an update. She was the newspaper's co-owner.

Joan Meyer was 98 and was "otherwise in good health for her age," the newspaper said. But, it added, she had been unable to eat or sleep after police entered her home Friday under a search warrant.

Joan Meyer "tearfully watched during the raid as police not only carted away her computer and a router used by an Alexa smart speaker but also dug through her son Eric's personal bank and investments statements to photograph them," according to the Record.

Without the devices, she was left unable to stream shows onto her TV or use devices if she needed help, the newspaper said. It also alleged that during the police operation, officers seized a number of devices that went beyond the search warrant's scope and were unrelated to their apparent investigation.

Officers came to Meyer's home around the same time police seized computers, cellphones and other equipment during a search of the Record's offices.

Another injury occurred, the newspaper said, when police chief Gideon Cody "forcibly grabbed" a cellphone from reporter Deb Gruver, alleging that the act injured Gruver's finger that had previously been dislocated.

Newsroom raids are rare in the United States, said Lynn Oberlander, a First Amendment attorney. "It's very rare because it's illegal," Oberlander said. "It doesn't happen very often because most organizations understand that it's illegal."

Several media law experts told NPR the raid appears to be a violation of federal law, which protects journalists from this type of action. The Privacy Protection Act of 1980 broadly prohibits law enforcement officials from searching for or seizing information from reporters.

Oberlander said exceptions to the Privacy Protection Act are "important but very limited."

One such exception allows authorities to raid a newsroom if the journalists themselves are suspected to be involved in the crime at hand. In a statement sent to NPR, Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody cited this exception to justify his department's raid of the Marion County Record.

"It is true that in most cases, [the Privacy Protection Act] requires police to use subpoenas, rather than search warrants, to search the premises of journalists unless they themselves are suspects in the offense that is the subject of the search," Cody said.

But Oberlander said that exception doesn't apply when the alleged crime is connected to newsgathering — which appears to be the case in Marion.

"It raises concern for me," Oberlander said. "It normalizes something that shouldn't be happening — that Congress has said should not happen, that the First Amendment says should not happen."

Ken White, a First Amendment litigator, said police raids of newsrooms used to be more common in the U.S., which led Congress to bolster federal protections against such searches.

White said the police raid of the Marion County Record could also be a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from "unreasonable" searches and seizures by the government. The search warrant in Marion, signed by county magistrate judge Laura Viar on Friday morning, allowed officers to confiscate a wide range of items, from computers and hardware to reporting documents.

"It's an abuse of power by the police and it's a serious dereliction of duty by the judge who signed off on it," White said.




Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Why Were Students Afraid to Let This Princeton Professor Speak?

Earlier this month, Princeton University professor Robert P. George was slated to give a talk at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, including “a discussion of the importance of free and open discourse during college of the great questions of human life.” That’s according to an email from the organizing professor obtained by the student newspaper, The Elm.

But apparently “a discussion of the importance of free and open discourse” was too much for Washington College students to stomach.

“Protesters at Washington College  … were successful in silencing the speaker, Robert P. George,” reported The Star Democrat, a local Maryland newspaper.

What was George’s crime? Students were outraged about his long history of bravely defending and articulating conservative principles about traditional sexual morality and abortion.

Flyers distributed by Washington College students ahead of the event blasted George, who also serves on the board of The Heritage Foundation, as an “avid homophobe, transphobe, and anti-abortion/uterine autonomy professor & speaker,” reported the student newspaper.

Amid the uproar, Washington College President Mike Sosulski emailed students, writing: “It is incumbent upon us as a community to create and maintain an environment in which everyone feels safe to share their ideas, even those that may be controversial or offensive.”

Sosulski himself attended George’s talk. Yet ultimately Washington College caved to the protesters and waved the white flag.

During George’s talk, “shouting from the protesters started right away, breaking up the professor’s speech,” reported The Star Democrat. At one point, Joseph Prud’homme, the professor who had invited George, asked the protesters to stop, noting there would be a chance for questions and discussion when George finished his talk, the newspaper reported.

But Prud’homme couldn’t even finish his plea before a protester cried out, “How did Hitler rise to power?”

“When nobody answered him back, [the protester] said, ‘Because he [Hitler] was given a platform,’” reported The Star Democrat. The newspaper noted that the protester, perhaps dimly aware that resorting to reductio ad Hitlerum generally is not seen as proof of keen intelligence, graciously conceded that George was not actually akin to Hitler.

(It’s good to know that at our institutions of higher education, where students are given the resources and time to dedicate themselves to serious learning, the intellectual debates are on par with … the squabbling that emerges in a Facebook comment section.)

That wasn’t all.

“Mainly it was the two masked individuals leading the protest,” according to The Star Democrat, which described a scene more appropriate for a gauche Broadway musical than a revolution. “As faculty tried to attempt to continue the lecture[, i]t proved futile. Fast-tempo music began blaring, whistles constantly blew, and there was even a little dancing in between the tables.”

How festive.

It would be easy to laugh if only it wasn’t so serious. Because what happened is just another sign of the times, of the Left’s desperate push to silence speech.

The Washington College protesters aren’t some crazed outliers. A new survey of college students shows an alarming number hold horrifying views about debate and free speech.

Around a third of students, 31%, say they believe that it’s always or sometimes acceptable to shout down a college speaker to prevent him from speaking, according to the survey by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression and College Pulse.

Even more concerningly, 11% of students say they think it’s always or sometimes acceptable to use “violence to stop a campus speech.”

A considerable number of students also hold that speakers with certain views should never be tolerated. (Remember: George’s speech wasn’t on abortion or LGBT issues, but on free speech.)

Over half of students (57%) agree that a speaker who thinks abortion should be completely illegal should definitely or probably be blocked from giving a speech on campus. A whopping 7 out of 10 (71%) say they think that a speaker who believes Black Lives Matter is a hate group should definitely or probably be blocked from speaking.

Students with cramped minds, preferring to squash speech rather than debate ideas, is hardly a new phenomenon. But colleges and universities have a long history of adhering to the Western tradition of debate and dialogue, of allowing reason to flourish and all ideas to be subject to rigorous discussion and examination.

That’s not what happened at Washington College.

Asked why security allowed the protesters to continue and George’s speech to be ended prematurely, Brian Speer, vice president of communications and marketing at Washington College, emailed The Daily Signal: “The students in this case were not violent nor were they causing physical harm, so security was not called to physically intervene.”

“Faculty and administrators spoke to the protesters numerous times in attempts to convince them to cease their disruptive behavior. This is the protocol that would have been followed for any speaker on campus,” Speer added.

In other words, since the protesters kindly refrained from throwing punches and tossing the odd Molotov cocktail, it was OK that they made it impossible for a top American thinker to address students in a lecture the college had invited him to give.

So much for not letting the bullies win.

But perhaps more interesting than college administrators’ cowardice is why students were so terrified of George’s remarks.

After all, they were told there would be a chance for discussion and questions after George’s speech. If students were confident that it ought to be a right to extinguish the life of an unborn baby, if they felt moral principles clearly illustrated the need for same-sex marriage, if they viewed the science as definitive that a person could be born in the “wrong” body, they would have had a chance to make those arguments, to show George (and the audience) just how weak his reasoning was.

Instead, the protesters shouted, blasted music, compared George to Hitler, and succeeded in ending both the talk and the opportunity for debate.


Why did the students feel so compelled to silence, not debate, George?

These students may want to ponder that ideas embraced under duress, not free and willing intellectual acceptance, don’t tend to be the ones that endure ultimately.




Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Sweden rules out sweeping changes to free speech law amid Quran burnings

Sweden’s government has no plans to make sweeping changes to freedom of speech laws but repeated it would look into measures that would allow police to stop the burning of holy books in public if there was a clear threat to national security.

“We stand up for the Swedish freedom of speech,” Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson told a news conference on Tuesday.

But he urged people to use the freedom of speech responsibly and respectfully. “In a free country like Sweden, you have a great deal of freedom. But with that great degree of freedom comes a great degree of responsibility,” Kristersson said.

“Everything that is legal is not appropriate. It can be awful but still lawful. We try to promote a respectful tone between countries and peoples.”

He also said the government would temporarily ramp up internal security and border controls, giving police wider authority to stop and search people.

Sweden and Denmark have seen a string of protests in recent weeks in which copies of the Quran were burned, or otherwise damaged, prompting outrage in Muslim countries and demands that the Nordic governments put a stop to the incidents of burning.




Monday, September 18, 2023

DOD Backpedals on Gender-Neutral Pronouns. Gen. Milley’s Citation Won’t Use ‘Themself.’

A Department of Defense policy incorporating “gender-neutral” language into award citations will be amended to clarify that it does not ban using “himself” or “herself,” a defense official told the Daily Caller News Foundation on Tuesday.

The DCNF previously reported that the end-of-tour award for Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would use “gender-specific” pronouns, despite a Defense Department Aug. 7 policy update incorporating the gender-neutral “themself” into opening sentences for award citations.

The Pentagon will now update the Manual of Military Decorations and Awards with a “clarifying comment” to ensure joint award citations can use gendered pronouns, the official said.

“The change in the DoD Manual was not intended to restrict use of the citation pronouns. However, in order to avoid confusion in the future, we are adding a clarifying comment that ‘themselves’ can be replaced with ‘himself’ or ‘herself’ as appropriate,” the Pentagon official told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

“The Department will ensure this nuance is reflected in the DoD [manual],” the official said, but did not respond to a question about a timeline for the update.

The official referred the Daily Caller News Foundation to Executive Order 14085, issued by President Joe Biden in October, which updated the language on several prior orders that established the various awards covered in the Defense Department’s joint awards policy.

Since most of those orders described prospective award recipients as “he,” Executive Order 14085 required the wording to include gender-neutral terms because many award descriptions were written prior to women’s integration into the armed forces, the officials said.

However, that executive order also replaced several instances in orders where “himself or herself” was used with “themselves.”

Changes in the joint awards manual “were intended to reflect” that order.

Last Friday, however, when asked about the update, a defense spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation that the manual’s Aug. 7 update “incorporates gender-neutral language in joint award citations.” Citations are composed individually for each award recipient and included in the full recommendation package, the manual shows.

“The Department consistently updates/changes policy issuances in order to remain in compliance with law, regulations and other policies. Should this issuance require additional updates from the August 7, 2023, change, the Department will follow the same process to update or change the issuance as required,” the spokesperson added.

Milley’s award citation, however, includes pronouns appropriate to his gender and would be processed for a final sign-off using that language, a spokesperson for the chairman told the Daily Caller News Foundation on Sept. 5.

“General Milley’s award recommendation includes gender-specific pronouns. The award recommendation will be processed for approval containing gender-specific language,” Col. Dave Butler, a spokesperson for Milley, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

As of Tuesday, Milley’s award certificate has been approved, but not presented, Butler confirmed to the Daily Caller News Foundation. Both the award citation and the certificate use male pronouns.

“Themself” is a “non-standard” pronoun “now used chiefly in place of ‘himself or herself’ as a gender-neutral reflexive form of ‘they’ when the reference is to a single person,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.




Sunday, September 17, 2023

‘Muzzling Speech’: Federal Appeals Court Shoots Down California Gun Ad Law

A federal appeals court Wednesday ruled against a California law banning certain gun advertisements.

The California law prohibits firearm advertisements that could be construed as “designed, intended or reasonably appears attractive to minors.” But since minors can’t purchase firearms, and California already takes steps to prevent youth gun violence, the laws serves the purpose of banning “truthful” gun advertisements in a sweeping and “extensive” manner, according to the ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“There is no evidence in the record that a minor in California has ever unlawfully bought a gun, let alone because of an ad,” 9th Circuit Judge Kenneth Lee wrote in the decision. “Nor has the state produced any evidence that truthful ads about lawful uses of guns … encourage illegal or violent gun use among minors.

“California’s law is also more extensive than necessary, as it sweeps in truthful ads about lawful use of firearms for adults and minors alike. For instance, an advertisement directed at adults featuring a camouflage skin on a firearm might be illegal because minors may be attracted to it,” Lee wrote.

Lee’s opinion was shared by fellow 9th Circuit Judge Lawrence VanDyke, who noted that the legislation is part of an effort by California to shape views on guns. VanDyke specifically went after the California Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, accusing them of targeting speech they disagree with.

“California wants to legislate views about firearms,” VanDyke wrote. “California has thus singled out a particular message it does not like and prohibited its proliferation. Its intent to stamp out this speech is evident from the record. And it crafted a targeted legislative scheme to get the job done.”

“The First Amendment demands more than good intentions and wishful thinking to warrant the government’s muzzling of speech,” Lee wrote.

Newsom did not immediately respond to a request for comment.




Thursday, September 14, 2023

Australia: Many censored social media posts did not contain Covid-19 misinformation

Many of 4000 social media posts secretly censored by government during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic contained ­factual information and reasonable arguments rather than ­misinformation, new documents reveal.

Digital posts released after Freedom of Information applications show the censored information shared facts such as the ineffectiveness of vaccines in preventing Covid-19 infection and transmission or argued against measures such as mask mandates and lockdowns.

For instance, the then Coalition government sought the removal of an Instagram post in April 2021 that claimed “Covid-19 vaccine does not prevent Covid-19 infection or Covid-19 transmission”.

That statement clearly was accurate yet the official intervention via the Home Affairs Department claimed it breached Instagram’s community guidelines because it was “potentially harmful information” that was “explicitly prohibited” by the platform.

A large proportion of posts the government targeted for removal by the digital platforms promoted wild conspiracy theories and misinformation but many others ­simply questioned the effectiveness of lockdowns and masks, shared information now accepted as accurate, and urged people to protest against pandemic ­measures.

An April 2021 tweet was challenged because it claimed “Covid-19 was released or escaped from Wuhan laboratory in China and that it was funded by the US government”.

The Home Affairs Department claimed this was “explicitly prohibited” under Twitter’s rules because it might “invoke a deliberate conspiracy by malicious and/or powerful forces”, yet American intelligence agencies have found the most likely source of the virus was the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and it has been revealed that some work at the laboratory was funded by the US.




Wednesday, September 13, 2023

The dystopian rise of videogame censorship

Online censorship is now coming for gamers. Videogame publisher Activision has announced that it will introduce an invasive new system of online censorship to its hugely popular Call of Duty franchise.

In a blog post last month, Activision set out the details of its new partnership with the artificial-intelligence company, Modulate. Their aim is to deliver ‘real-time voice chat moderation, at-scale’ in online gaming matches. Apparently, this is needed to stamp out the allegedly rampant menace of ‘toxic’ behaviour among gamers.

Of course, online gaming is not all sweetness and light. Call of Duty titles allow gamers to shoot and kill each other in online battlefields. Much of its success can be attributed to its online matchmaking system, which also allows players to easily communicate with each other, both within and between matches. And yes, part of the fun of this is that gamers often insult and trash talk each other. While it is true that some players can be vile and bigoted at times, this kind of behaviour is normally met with insults in kind. The worst verbal bruisings tend to be reserved for those eejits who deserve them.

In an attempt to get rid of the most abusive players, Activision is taking some incredibly draconian steps that will limit the free speech of all Call of Duty fans. Modulate’s pro-active voice-moderation tool – ToxMod – will scan and supposedly identify an increasingly broad, and endlessly vague, spectrum of ‘toxic speech’. So-called hate speech, discriminatory language, and harassment are all listed as forbidden, for instance. It will not only report what words players’ use to Activision, but also the tone and intent behind their words.

The tool is set to go online next month. For now, the AI itself will not have the power to ban players from Call of Duty games. Those decisions will still be taken by human moderators. But a system that makes censorship more ‘efficient’, by flagging up supposedly toxic speech in real time, is still a dystopian prospect.

Attempts to curb ‘toxicity’ in gaming are nothing new. Players have long been able to manually report abuse from other players to moderators. But there has been a noticeable escalation of censorship over the past decade or so. Earlier this year, Ubisoft publishing, best known for the Far Cry franchise, announced a partnership with Northumbria Police in the UK that would unite specialist police officers with moderators to tackle ‘toxic’ gaming culture. And in 2021, Intel was widely ridiculed when it introduced Bleep, a software that allows gamers to filter out so-called hate speech, according to their propensity to be offended. Bleep features a sliding scale that lets players choose how many categories of ‘toxic’ speech they’re open to hearing, including ‘none’, ‘some’, ‘most’ or ‘all’.

Activision’s new AI censorship tool is on an altogether larger scale than these initiatives. Millions of Call of Duty players will soon have their speech monitored when the system goes online. This mass surveillance – and mass censorship – is bound to rob gaming of the spontaneity and escapism that makes it worthwhile.

Gamers need to stand up to this attack on their freedoms.




Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Who killed free speech at Harvard?

Oliver Rhodes

Harvard, consistently ranked as one of the world’s best universities, has just been rated the worst for free speech in the United States. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (Fire), which compiled the rankings, described the state of free speech at Harvard as ‘abysmal’.

This news is surprising, since in April over fifty Harvard academics formed a Council on Academic Freedom dedicated, in its words, ‘to promoting free enquiry, intellectual diversity and civil discourse’ on campus. The Council’s formation marked a milestone in official recognition of the problem of free speech, mainly for conservative professors. The psychologist Steven Pinker and Lawrence H. Summers, former advisor to President Clinton, are both members. So why does Harvard’s reputation continue to decline?

Having just finished a year at Harvard, I would say there’s a fairly simple explanation. It is misleading to speak of a free speech problem when Harvard doesn’t really need free speech in the first place. The purpose of America’s elite universities, for decades, has been to serve as hitching posts for the elite. Most people are there to climb the ladder and get a well-paid job. Once you understand this, you can see why a university which professes to champion enquiry, tolerance and diversity ends up doing the exact opposite.

The purpose of America’s elite universities, for decades, has been to serve as hitching posts for the elite

For starters, Harvard’s student body remains stubbornly homogeneous. Ten per cent of graduating seniors identify as conservative, versus 70 per cent liberal. Diversity of race and gender have improved – but these are relatively easy to achieve when affirmative action privileges wealthy black students, and girls outperform boys at high school.

Diversity of class, though, is harder to achieve. One in four students come from America’s top 10 per cent richest households, about as many as come from America’s bottom 50 per cent.

Put another way, Harvard’s student body is not only elite, but elitist. A few right-wing provocateurs at the Republican Club notwithstanding, the scope for genuine disagreement on political and moral issues is narrow. There is no need for ‘free speech’ when most people on campus share a basic worldview.

If Harvard’s faculty had the authority to force their students to think differently on contentious issues, things might be different. But the institution would prefer to keep admissions rates and satisfaction levels high than impose anything so threatening as pedagogy on its students.

A class I took last Autumn, in music composition, ended in bitterness when one student charged our professor with, among other crimes, describing Nina Simone as ‘angry’ (he was showing us her song, Revolution). What surprised me was our poor professor’s resignation: to the petulant and untrue suggestion that he was racist; to the mutiny of his own teaching assistant, who encouraged us to make a formal complaint if we felt sufficiently distressed; and to the remarks that would inevitably be made about him on the Harvard-wide student survey once class was over.

Students are expected to direct not only what they are taught, and how, but how they are rewarded for it too. Grade inflation is a universal problem, but the ‘Harvard A’ is an inside joke, given how many students seem to get one. Those in charge can do little about it: students simply avoid the classes that are too difficult, punishing professors in turn.

The truth is that when higher education has eroded, year after year, until it is little more than a theatre for entitled elites – a way-stop before lucrative careers in finance, consulting and medicine – there really is no need to defend something so antiquated as ideological diversity. Upstanding faculty members can preach veritas, Harvard’s motto, all they like. But the truth is, Harvard doesn’t really need free speech




Monday, September 11, 2023

College Free Speech Rankings

Executive Summary

For the fourth year in a row, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a nonprofit organization committed to defending and sustaining the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought, and College Pulse surveyed college undergraduates about their perceptions and experiences regarding free speech on their campuses.

This year’s survey includes 55,102 student respondents from 254 colleges and universities.[1] Students who were enrolled in four-year degree programs were surveyed via the College Pulse mobile app and web portal from January 13 to June 30, 2023.

The College Free Speech Rankings are available online and are presented in an interactive dashboard ( that allows for easy comparison between institutions.

Key findings:

Michigan Technological University is the top-ranked school in the 2024 College Free Speech Rankings. Auburn University, the University of New Hampshire, Oregon State University, and Florida State University round out the top five.

Harvard University obtained the lowest score possible, 0.00, and is the only school with an “Abysmal” speech climate rating. The University of Pennsylvania, the University of South Carolina, Georgetown University, and Fordham University also ranked in the bottom five.

The key factors differentiating high-performing schools (the top five) from poorly performing ones (the bottom five) are scores on the components of “Tolerance Difference” and “Disruptive Conduct.” Students from schools in the bottom five were more biased toward allowing controversial liberal speakers on campus over conservative ones and were more accepting of students using disruptive and violent forms of protest to stop a campus speech.

Deplatforming attempts that occurred at schools ranked in the bottom five had an alarming 81% success rate.

More than half of students (56%) expressed worry about damaging their reputation because of someone misunderstanding what they have said or done, and just over a quarter of students (26%) reported that they feel pressure to avoid discussing controversial topics in their classes. Twenty percent reported that they often self-censor.

When provided with a definition of self-censorship, at least a quarter of students said they self-censor “fairly often” or “very often” during conversations with other students, with professors, and during classroom discussions, respectively (25%, 27%, and 28%, respectively). A quarter of students also said that they are more likely to self-censor on campus now — at the time they were surveyed — than they were when they first started college.

Almost half of the students surveyed (49%) said that abortion is a difficult topic to have an open and honest conversation about on campus. A notable portion of students also identified gun control, racial inequality, and transgender rights, respectively, as topics difficult to discuss (43%, 42%, and 42%, respectively).

Student opposition to allowing controversial conservative speakers on campus ranged from 57% to 72%, depending on the speaker. In contrast, student opposition to controversial liberal speakers ranged from 29% to 43%, depending on the speaker.

More than 2 in 5 students (45%) said that students blocking other students from attending a speech is acceptable to some degree, up from 37% last year. And more than a quarter of students (27%) said that using violence to stop a campus speech is acceptable to some degree, up from 20% last year.

More than 1 in 5 students (21%) reported that their college administration’s stance on free speech on campus is not clear, and more than a quarter of students (27%) reported that it is unlikely their college administration would defend a speaker’s right to express his or her views if a controversy occurred on campus.




Sunday, September 10, 2023

Censorship started under previous Australian Centre/Right government

A lot of perfectly warranted criticism has been aimed at Anthony Albanese and the Labor Party over their proposed Misinformation and Disinformation bill which, if passed, presents the greatest risk to civil liberty this country has ever seen.

There is nothing more dangerous than a busy-body, virtue-seeking entity channelling the Greater Good by imposing its worldview on public speech. The new laws would curtail the speech of individuals and publications with more ruthlessness than during the brief period of wartime censorship.

Australia is not at war. Our speech is being restricted to protect flimsy political ideas and ruthless corporate interest – and everyone knows it.

While very few people were surprised by a socialist-leaning Labor leadership drooling over such power, we must remember that this nation is being nudged toward dictatorial oversight because of laws first tabled during Scott Morrison’s shameful Liberal Leadership.

Scared by public dissent during Covid and tied up in gargantuan contracts with vaccine manufacturers that drained an already destitute public purse, political leaders hemmed themselves into a narrative that required extreme censorial measures. To pick holes in the government’s pandemic response was to threaten public trust in health authorities. Instead of simply making better decisions, the public were increasingly silenced.

In particular, the father of censorship in Australia is not Albanese, but the former Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts – Paul Fletcher.

In a media release dated March 21, 2022, Paul Fletcher’s office proudly announced ‘New Disinformation Laws’.

‘The Morrison government will introduce legislation this year to combat harmful disinformation and misinformation online.’

Harmful to whom? And what sort of information might have prompted this bill?

‘The legislation will provide the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) with new regulatory powers to hold big tech companies to account for harmful content on their platforms.’

If this sounds familiar, it should. This is the egg and sperm that gave rise to Labor’s current bill. Dig a little deeper and it was reported in the Australian Financial Review that the Morrison government chose to combat ‘misinformation’ after a report found ‘four of five Australian adults had seen incorrect information about Covid online’.

No doubt that this ‘incorrect’ information contained within the report is now deemed to be ‘correct’ – but don’t hold your breath for a government correction or updated report.

As many have said, the biggest creators of misinformation and disinformation during Covid were governments and their ‘experts’ – second only to the vaccine companies that wilfully ignored public complaints of harmful side effects that led to untold injuries and deaths in otherwise healthy people.

If this is the premise for Fletcher’s campaign against free speech, it is based on little more than a misguided whim.

‘ACMA’s report highlights that disinformation and misinformation are significant and ongoing issues,’ said Fletcher.

Why is it any of ACMA’s business what people say to each other in a public forum? That is the question Fletcher should have been asking.

He continued:

‘Digital platforms must take responsibility for what is on their sites and take action when harmful or misleading content appears. This is our government’s clear expectation, and just as we have backed that expectation with action in recently passing the new Online Safety Act, we are taking action when it comes to disinformation and misinformation.’

Which is a statement rife with disinformation or misinformation. Take your pick. We could simply say that Fletcher is wrong, morally and practically.

Even if it were possible to police the speech of 25.69 million Australians in real-time, social media platforms are just that – platforms – and they are governed by America’s Section 230 Immunity which forbids them from acting as publishers on pain of being reclassified. Their ‘editorial’ limit extends to the removal of illegal content and these companies are already on shaky legal ground with their terms of service and community guidelines which many say contradict Section 230. That is a battle for America, but if social media platforms start making ‘truth’ judgements on online content, they will be overtly in violation of the rules that govern their existence.

And let’s be real. This is like the government asking the bloke behind the bar to come around and eavesdrop on everyone’s conversation and kick them out of the pub if they say something the government doesn’t like.

‘Oh, but they are misinforming their friends!’

‘Bugger off, mate!’ Would be the obvious reply to such an unwanted intrusion by government.

The leaked Twitter Files have given us a glimpse into the thousands of requests government and law enforcement agencies sent to one company and the information they chose to remove was not harmful, as claimed, but rather politically and commercially awkward.

While the Morrison government said that his move toward censorship was part of a longer battle to ‘halt the spread of misleading information’, it appears to have been created as a direct response to Covid.

If that is the case, why hasn’t Fletcher been asked to examine what happened with online information during Covid? Much of what the government called conspiracy turned out to be the truth. Masks do not work. Vaccines do not stop infection or transmission. Vaccines can cause heart injuries and death. Lockdowns do not work and cause major harms. The bat virus came out of China. Any or all of these things were deemed harmful when the original Liberal version of this bill was drafted. One can only imagine how such laws will be misused to favour the trillion-dollar climate change industry.

Anyone looking at this situation would see the formation of a protection racket that uses censorship to protect political and corporate interests at the expense of truth.

ACMA may want to be the arbiter of truth online but they have never shown themselves to be a worthy digital god.

Where are their apologies and corrections for the misinformation and disinformation endorsed as ‘true’ by government? Where are ACMA’s criticisms of government propaganda? A regulator that begins life denying its mistakes is not going to be a benign beacon of truth.

Fletcher has accidentally described the establishment of a Ministry of ‘Truth’ perfectly.

‘A Misinformation and Disinformation Action Group will be established, bringing together key stakeholders across government and the private sector to collaborate and share information on emerging issues and best practice responses.’

It was correct for the Shadow Communications Minister David Coleman to react with horror to Labor’s new censorial bill but – come on – when is the Liberal Party going to come clean about its previous actions?

Why hasn’t Paul Fletcher’s work in the field of Orwellian censorship been loudly denounced by Leader Peter Dutton? The bill has not been passed yet but Linda Burney is already accusing Dutton of spreading misinformation and disinformation over the Voice referendum.

‘We have just heard, in one speech, every bit of disinformation and misinformation and scare campaigns that exist in this debate,’ said Burney.

Which is why the Liberal Party should know better than to gift government the power of censorship. It is always used as a political weapon, which is the very opposite of safe.

How can any conservative voters have confidence in a Liberal Party that spent years drafting censorial policy and cheering on the restriction of speech in a country that used to believe in basic Western values?

‘This is a very bad bill. The government should rip it up. Freedom of speech is fundamental to our democracy, and the Coalition will always fight for it,’ said Coleman.

Yes. Good man.

But the material problem facing voters is that the Coalition didn’t fight for free speech. When they were in power, they proposed bill after bill after bill to limit free speech to protect political reputations and commercial interests.

For this betrayal, there has never been an apology.

We want that apology, Mr Dutton.

More than that, we need the Liberal Party to acknowledge the basic truth that neither government nor ACMA have any right or ability to determine what Australian citizens can say to each other in a public forum.




Friday, September 08, 2023

Woke cancel culture threatens some of our greatest works of art

The cultural traditions of Western civilisation have been under consistent attack for some years, none more so than classical music. Previously, the immortality of this music seemed assured and invincible. Now, some of its greatest composers are labelled ‘dead, white males’ and tainted with elitism and colonialism.

Classical or art music is in dangerous, unmapped territory, and not because people are averse to music. On the contrary, it remains part of everyday life, especially pop music, with strong personal appeal, above all to younger people. But pop music is crowding out the classics, including a tradition of art song or German Lieder that reached a high point in the Romantic era of 19th-century Austria and Germany, and was adopted by thousands of composers in many nations. Perfected by Schubert in hundreds of songs with peerless melodies and harmony, art song may not survive unless performers become its defenders and warriors.

Such are the lamentations of Professor Graham Johnson, celebrated British piano accompanist and pedagogue, who recently held six days of Lieder masterclasses at the Sydney Conservatorium. Organised by Jeanell Carrigan, Associate Professor in Collaborative Piano, the course included works by Schubert, Wolf, Schumann and Richard Strauss.

Johnson’s breathtaking analysis, warmth and humour transformed many student performances, culminating in a moving concert reflecting new-found dimensions of feeling and complexity.

Among music lovers, the Lied attracts a minority of enthusiasts, so why conserve this tradition with the drawback of poems in a foreign language? Isn’t it also elitist and over-refined? Elitist perhaps, as it is championed by a small number of devotees. Even so, this multifaceted art reveals much of Western music and civilisation in miniature. As a microcosm of history and social change, the songs touch on themes as diverse as ancient Greece, nature, or exhausted French soldiers returning from Russia during the Napoleonic wars.

Piquant, sensual, entertaining or awesome, a web of melodic fragments binds each poem to the music, depicting an atmospheric landscape far greater than the sum of the two. In the Lied, a sophisticated quartet of poet, composer, singer and accompanist represents some of the most inventive music in the Western canon.

Emotional gradations from delicate to passionate can be swift, and the slightest nuance of tempo or volume may signify shifts in meaning. The communication to listeners is intimate, often expressing universal pathos. A modulation can pull at the heartstrings and a single note or dissonance echo danger in the storyline.

Without the props of opera and the demands of a conductor, both singer and accompanist experience vast freedom of interpretation within an enmeshed musical relationship.

Extensive knowledge is not required to enjoy the songs, only some initial exposure and an English translation of the text. With greater familiarity, the vignettes release their secrets, encouraging repeated pilgrimage and contemplation. But today, the Lied, and classical music generally, are being cancelled by politicisation.

Critical Theory is dividing society into oppressors and victims based on race, gender, colonialism, etc. dressed up self-righteously as social justice. An offshoot of postmodernism and Marxism that marched from the universities to mainstream society, this movement threatens Western culture and civilisation with its agenda of subversion and autocratic control.

To eradicate opposition and advance its revolutionary aims, critical theory’s activist ‘woke’ arm wields ‘cancel culture’, and in relation to music, silences ‘problematic’ composers deemed morally reprehensible.

In line with the ideology, academics at Oxford University’s music department have questioned whether their mostly white faculty is prejudiced in favour of white musicians and ‘white musics’, and suggested African, global and popular music should gain preference over composers such as Schubert. Some professors also believe the method of grading itself can be seen as a ‘colonialist system of oppression’.

Viewed through the lens of colonisation and the slave trade, Handel and Mozart are condemned as privileged white males who oppressed a victimised minority. Research has revealed that Handel invested in the slave trade. Mozart is implicated by association because his father, Leopold, turned a blind eye to the wealth of patrons whose fortunes sprang from plantations in Jamaica. Beethoven’s aristocratic sponsors may have escaped the infamy of slavery, but they were entitled, and his titanic 5th Symphony, dedicated to noble patrons, is ‘a reminder of classical music’s history of exclusion and elitism’.

Although Schubert had few benefactors, he is typecast with other denigrated European composers. Yet this Midas of the song, says Johnson, is a man for modern times – a composer who could express the gamut of emotions but especially identify with the weak and marginalised. Despite suffering despair and alienation from then-incurable syphilis, Schubert remains a bearer of tenderness and gentleness that receptive listeners can pass on.

The Lieder of Schubert and other composers demand a reach for excellence, also sought by faculty at conservatories steeped in merit, lineage and traditions. These objective standards are not consistent with subjective post-modern criteria often accepted in schools and the wider society.

If music education in schools continues to decline due to ideology, lowered standards and underfunding, the Lied could become an endangered species on the road to extinction. With such prospects, an event like Graham Johnson’s masterclasses offers a sorely needed corrective.

One of the daunting aspects of Lieder is the language. In this regard, there is an intriguing Australian connection in Sir Robert Randolph Garren, a barrister who was involved with drafting the constitution of Australia and became the first-appointed solicitor-general. A noted writer and poet, Garren translated many of Schubert’s songs into English. Rediscovery of his fine translations could stimulate interest in the genre’s greatest composer and improve accessibility for English-speaking audiences.

In any case, the East has grasped the baton of Western classical music, including Lieder. Children of Asian immigrant families already dominate Western conservatories and classical music is well-established in Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. With enormous interest in China, many budding musicians study in the West and continue Western traditions of performance and teaching back home. The pivot to the East could challenge critical theory’s corrosive path in classical music including Lieder. A priceless cache of songs and singular representatives of Western civilisation is at stake.




Thursday, September 07, 2023

CUNY professors’ free-speech case could be next blow to Big Labor

Union officials often bemoan how so-called “dark money” in politics is supposedly being used to “rig the system” against workers.

Ignored, of course, is how Big Labor has managed to rig the system in its favor by buying undue political influence with money seized from workers under threat of termination if they refuse to pay.

This power to extort rank-and-file workers to pay up or be fired still exists for private sector workers not covered by a state Right-to-Work law, which guarantees you can’t be forced into a union to keep your job.

But a landmark US Supreme Court ruling five years ago ended union officials’ ability to dragoon millions of government workers into funding union politics.

In 2018’s Janus v. AFSCME, the justices ruled that the First Amendment protects public employees from being forced to subsidize government-union speech.

It does so because government unions’ conduct is inherently political — the very purpose of a public-sector union is to “bargain” over how the government operates.

Janus’ impact has been massive. The court declared unconstitutional a legal regime union officials used to force workers to subsidize tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of union political action over the years.

Argued by the National Right to Work Foundation’s attorneys, Janus immediately freed some 500,000 nonmember unionized government employees who previously had to pay union fees as a job condition.

Yet the battle to fully enforce workers’ Janus rights continues to this day.

In over 50 follow-up cases, Foundation legal aid has directly helped enforce the rights of another 70,000 public employees.

Since the Janus ruling, recent research suggests that in all some 1.2 million government employees have resigned from a union or refused union membership — roughly equivalent to one in five American public-sector workers.

The exodus has meant an estimated $733 million loss in annual union revenue.

That’s a big blow to union bosses. Yet even if Janus is fully enforced (and the regular filing of new cases to protect public employees’ First Amendment Janus rights suggests it isn’t thus far), that doesn’t mean an end to government union bosses’ undue political influence.

In the vast majority of US states, even post-Janus, laws still empower union officials to force their one-size-fits-all “representation” on all workers in a public sector workplace, even those that oppose the union or voted against its presence.

 This “monopoly bargaining” power gives union leaders control over the contracts, salary, benefits, and work rules of countless workers who openly oppose them.

It also means elected officials answerable to voters are forced to “negotiate” with union bosses over public policy, driving up costs to taxpayers while undermining efficiency and accountability.

Janus went a long way toward reducing union bosses’ stranglehold over public workers’ rights and their inordinate influence over government.

But it’s clear that, to fully protect government workers’ First Amendment rights, union officials must not be able to force public workers under their monopoly “representation.”

Fortunately, there’s an excellent vehicle courts can use to establish such a protection: Goldstein v. Professional Staff Congress (PSC), now before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

In Goldstein, six City University of New York professors seek to invalidate a New York state law that forces the “representation” of the PSC union on them.

The profs adamantly oppose being “represented” by radical PSC officials who have personally attacked them and issued statements the Jewish professors find anti-Semitic.

They ask the court to strike down the forced representation scheme as a violation of the professors’ freedom of association under the First Amendment.

Public-sector unions shouldn’t be able to leverage their monopoly bargaining powers over public workers to further their agendas in government and politics, nor should they be able to force workers to pay for the exercise of that power.

Five years ago, Janus declared the latter unconstitutional.

Hopefully, five years from now, it will be well-established that public workers also have the First Amendment freedom to not be subjected to union “representation” they oppose.