Thursday, February 29, 2024

American Psychological Association's ABSURDLY woke new dictionary bans common phrases like 'you're killing it!', 'turn a blind eye' or 'blue-collar job'

Psychologists should avoid using phrases such as 'you're nailing it' when trying to encourage patients because it could be interpreted as violent.

That is according to a new psychology language manual that lists dozens of everyday phrases that should be swapped out for more 'inclusive' terms.

Phrases such as 'take a shot at', 'target population'  and 'you're killing it' should be avoided because they are microaggressions, the guide says.

Meanwhile, 'stand up for', 'turn a blind eye to' and 'lend you voice to a cause' should be axed because they are 'ableist' and offensive to disabled people.

The manual released in December by the American Psychological Association (APA), which has nearly 160,000 members, including scientists, clinicians and consultants.

The guidelines aim to 'dismantle the destructive hierarchies that have marginalized people from equitable representation and participation in society,' the organization said.

But Dr Sarah Hill, a professor of psychology with expertise in women, health, and sexual psychology at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, told that restricting language would only make communication between patient and doctor harder.

'It just creates a situation where people don't want to talk,' she said.

'All it does is make well-intentioned people afraid to speak, because they're afraid of hurting people's feelings.




Wednesday, February 28, 2024

To Censor or to Host? Supreme Court Hears Social Media Platforms’ Free Speech Challenge to State Laws

The Supreme Court on Monday heard hours of argument in two free-speech cases, Moody v. NetChoice and NetChoice v. Paxton.

NetChoice, an industry group representing large tech companies, argued that laws enacted by Texas and Florida restricting the companies’ ability to demote or remove user content violated the First Amendment rights of social media platforms.

Listening to NetChoice’s arguments, one gets the impression that the states are forcing social media to broadcast pro-terrorist, pro-suicide messages.

They are not. And the hysterics of NetChoice’s hypotheticals should make a fair-minded person skeptical.

Rather, the cases are, to paraphrase the late historian and scholar Christopher Dawson an effort by the nation’s de facto social powers to exempt themselves from all interference by lawful political authority.

The dominant social media platforms—Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), et al.—attained their dominance by marketing themselves as an open digital marketplace for ideas. The question now is whether states have any authority to regulate these private businesses to keep the digital “public square” available to speech and speakers that the platforms disfavor.

Whether states have such authority depends on how much of social media platforms’ operations are protected by the First Amendment: All? Some? None?

Do platforms such as Facebook merely host the speech of others, like providers of cellphone service?  Is algorithmic content curation inherently expressive like the decisions of a newspaper’s editorial board? Is the decision to ban certain users censorious in the expressive sense or merely censorship?

Texas and Florida contended that little of what social media platforms do to user content qualifies as expressive. Throughout oral arguments, the solicitor generals of Florida and Texas maintained that when the platforms demoted or promoted, hosted or banned, they were engaged in conduct, unprotected by the First Amendment, not in speech.

Thus, it was perfectly constitutional for Florida to prevent social media sites from deplatforming candidates for public office or for Texas to prevent platforms from deleting posts based on viewpoints.   

Advocating for NetChoice, former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement argued that virtually everything platforms do is expressive because their very business is to disseminate speech.  

Justices Ketanji Brown Jackson and Neil Gorsuch took a more nuanced view. Rather than looking at the nature of social media’s business, both justices insisted that the matter needed to be assessed at the level of function.

Facebook, for instance, offers users the ability to post public comments or to send someone a direct message. Contrary to Clement’s assertions, the justices indicated that the First Amendment concerns would be different when the platform was simply transmitting a message versus when it was curating or promoting content.

Even the word for what the platforms do with user content became a matter of semantic dispute.

Justice Clarence Thomas pressed Clement for a case in which the court had declared that “censorship” enjoyed First Amendment protection. Justice Samuel Alito described as “Orwellian” the platforms’ insistence that deleting users and posts was merely “content moderation.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, in a plaintive echo of the Reagan era, rejoined that “When I think of Orwellian, I think of the state,” implying as he did throughout the argument that censorship cannot be an issue when a private company is the censor.

Other questions were raised without answers.

Were social media platforms common carriers like telephone companies and thus duty-bound to welcome all patrons? Were the states’ laws making pernicious content-based distinctions favoring conservative speech or were they simply preventing the platforms from discriminating based on speech content?

Even Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar made a guest appearance on behalf of the federal government (not a party to either case) to argue that while not every business transmitting speech enjoyed First Amendment protection, contra the states, there was no common-carrier exception to the First Amendment.

Yet these conceptual concerns, so central to the case, are unlikely to be the basis of the court’s decision this term.

That’s because the dominant theme preoccupying the justices during oral argument was the cases’ peculiar procedural posture. NetChoice, in its haste to stop the states’ laws from going into effect, brought what is known as a pre-enforcement facial challenge. To sustain that challenge before either law is applied or interpreted, NetChoice has the burden to show that the laws have no constitutionally legitimate applications. That’s a tall order, especially when the record in both cases left it ambiguous which platforms were even covered.   

The cases’ posture concerned justices across the ideological spectrum. Some, like Justices Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett, seemed open to the argument that the platforms engaged in expressive conduct when they curated content for user consumption.

But they were concerned that both state laws could accomplish lawful ends such as preventing Gmail from blocking email accounts of controversial public figures such as Tucker Carlson and Rachel Maddow, a hypothetical posed by Alito. As Jackson put it:  “I think that’s a problem in this case. We’re not aware of all the facts.”

Why should a facial challenge cause the justices to hesitate? In a word, federalism. Our system of vertically bifurcated sovereignty entails a presumption that state laws are valid when properly enacted. As judgments of the people’s representatives, state laws must be given effect unless and until they are shown to be patently unconstitutional.

As Solicitor General Aaron Nielson said, “Texas has a right to protect Texans.”

So, what outcome should one expect when the court rules on these cases by June?  The answer is likely a remand and more litigation in the lower courts over the particulars of when and to what extent the respective state laws apply.

But the core concerns will remain alive. As today’s arguments make clear, America is at a crossroads when it comes to limiting the influence of the major tech platforms, which hold tremendous sway over everything from the content of our debates to the socialization of our children.

Under the status quo, social media platforms enjoy near-limitless discretion to suppress whatever views they wish, for any reason whatsoever.

If the Supreme Court eventually invalidates state bans on viewpoint-based discrimination, states would have far fewer options to address the most egregious censorship practices.

Because these platforms are the modern public square, their censorial conduct undermines the free speech of everyday Americans. Even worse, a full embrace of the tech companies’ radical First Amendment theory runs the risk of entrenching censorship well beyond social media.

NetChoice seems to argue—or at least imply—that the mere act of allowing or disallowing content on a social media service is a communicative act and, therefore, is the platforms’ own protected speech.

On this theory, by merely hosting a user’s content (e.g., posts, websites, videos, electronic files), a digital service provider “participates” in that speech and is thus free to refuse service to anyone it doesn’t like.

Such a holding risks foreclosing reasonable legislative measures to prevent viewpoint discrimination against users on numerous other digital services.

For instance, Amazon has removed or reduced visibility for books from its e-commerce site. Apple has also removed apps from its App Store, web hosting services like Go Daddy have been known to deplatform websites, and email services such as Gmail may have disadvantaged certain messages based, in part, on their political content.

Applying the First Amendment in the way NetChoice proposes would undermine important protections against these and other forms of censorship.  

When asked how the state laws might affect his clients once applied, Clement told the court, “We’d have to fundamentally change our business models.” To this, most Americans might say “the sooner, the better.”




Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Government Censorship: How We Got Here

Until now, you likely haven’t heard of Mike Benz, nor visited his website, nor seen him on X. But if you watch Tucker Carlson’s recent hour-long interview with Benz, you’ll have a hard time getting him off your mind.

But don’t take our word for it. Here’s The Federalist’s normally sober-minded John Daniel Davidson: “If you didn’t see Tucker Carlson’s interview last week with Mike Benz, you need to take an hour and watch the whole thing. In a mind-bending narrative about the emergence of what Benz calls ‘military rule’ through an online censorship industry in the U.S., he lays out in startling detail just how corrupt and tyrannical the U.S. defense and foreign policy establishment has become.”

Benz, as his biography notes, “is a former State Department official with responsibilities in formulating and negotiating US foreign policy on international communications and information technology matters.” So he knows of what he speaks.

As Carlson noted in his introduction, our nation is great because of its First Amendment. “But that right,” he says, “that foundational right that makes this country what it is, that right from which all others flow, is going away at high speed.”

Carlson says that the censorship we’re experiencing isn’t being conducted by the private sector alone. As the Twitter Files made clear last year, the government has a heavy — and, we think it’s fair to say, unconstitutional — directorial hand in all this.

“How does censorship happen?” Carlson asks. “What are the mechanics of it?” Mike Benz, he says, is “the expert in the world on how this happens.”

The Internet, according to Benz, worked wonderfully from 1991 until around 2014 as “an instrument of statecraft.” During this period, he says, Internet freedom was a sort of rapid-response free-speech tool for use by our State Department and our NATO allies to help overthrow totalitarian regimes. But it reached its high-water mark with the Arab Spring in 2011 and 2012, during the so-called Facebook revolutions that occurred across the Arab world.

All that changed in 2014, when a coup in Ukraine was followed by a counter-coup. The former was favorable to the U.S. and its NATO allies, but the latter was unfavorable and resulted in the breaking away of Crimea and the Donbas region from Ukraine to Russia. Shortly thereafter, the Crimean annexation vote also went Russia’s way, and, as Benz puts it: “That was the last straw for the concept of free speech on the Internet in the eyes of NATO. As they saw it, the fundamental nature of war changed at that moment.”

The result of the Crimean vote was NATO’s adherence to the Gerasimov Doctrine, which was a Russian general’s assertion that a nation needn’t necessarily win land wars to influence nations and thereby take territory. Instead, the focus should be on control of the media — and especially social media — because that’s what decides elections.

That’s how this modern-day “Department of Dirty Tricks” — this hybrid warfare conducted across State, Defense, and the intelligence services — was born. From there, as Benz notes, it wasn’t much of a leap to go from using social media to fight Russian propaganda in Europe to using it against Donald Trump with Crossfire Hurricane, and four years later with the suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story, as well as fighting COVID apostasy in 2020 and beyond.

Since then, the Internet has done a 180 on free speech and has instead become a tool for speech suppression. Since then, the Internet has been used by our military in collusion with the State Department to censor Russian propaganda and also the communications of right-wing populist groups in Europe, which were growing in power and fury due to the crisis of runaway immigration from the Middle East and Africa. Then came Brexit in June 2016 and the fear that it would be followed domino-like by populist uprisings across Europe. And that’s when the Censorship Industrial Complex crossed the pond to the U.S.

Benz says that some 60 universities — including Stanford and the University of Washington — now have federally funded analysis organizations within them whose main focus is to monitor social media for trending language that threatens the approved narrative. From there, these organizations build “code books” of certain words and phrases, which they then use to censor tens of millions of social media messages with a few lines of code. Diabolical, no?

When a slack-jawed Carlson stopped Benz to ask whether the Defense Department was involved in censoring American citizens during and around the 2020 election, Benz nodded and said, “The two most censored events in human history, I would argue, to date, are the 2020 election and the COVID-19 pandemic.”

That the 2020 election was rigged for Joe Biden should deeply trouble the masses, but by now it shouldn’t shock anyone. What Benz reveals, though, are the blueprints. This “pre-censorship” regimen, says Benz, was conducted across 15 social media platforms and hundreds of millions of posts. He said flagged messages were “scanned and banned,” “throttled,” or had “frictions” attached to them in the form of “fact-checks,” which made it more difficult to share them.

“What I’m essentially describing,” says Benz, “is military rule.”

Thus, the rise of democratic populism became a call to arms for the Censorship Industrial Complex. As Benz puts it:

The whole push after the 2016 election was to completely invert everything we’ve described as being the underpinnings of a democratic society in order to deal with the threat of free speech on the Internet. And what they essentially said was, “We need to redefine democracy from being about the will of the voters to being about the sanctity of democratic institutions.”

All this is a lot to process and digest, but it’s about our right to speak freely, and it’s thus critical to the survival of the American Experiment. As The Federalist’s Davidson puts it, the essence is fairly simple:

Those who have power don’t want to be held accountable by the unwashed masses, by “populism,” and certainly not by the results of free and fair elections. They will not tolerate anyone, not even a duly elected president, going against the “interagency consensus” — that famous phrase of Alexander Vindman’s from the first Trump impeachment. They don’t think the people have that right, and they intend to use every tool they have to protect their power and privilege.

How does the world’s foremost champion of free speech, Elon Musk, fit into all this? Benz says the censorship industry and the national security state have him in their sights. He says they’re trying to “induce, I think, a sort of corporate regime-change through … a sort of death by a thousand paper cuts. I think there are seven or eight different Justice Department, or SEC, or FTC investigations into Elon Musk properties that all started after his acquisition of X.”

Benz says the censors are hitting Musk in Europe first, where the EU, which he says is a proxy for NATO, has conveniently banned “disinformation,” and where X has 450 million users, far more than the 300 million it has in the U.S.

We know Musk has the world’s deepest pockets. For the sake of free speech, both in the United States and abroad, we hope he also has some really good lawyers.




Monday, February 26, 2024

Canadian School Board Facing More Legal Action for Allegedly Censoring Public

A British Columbia school board, already facing legal action for allegedly restricting speech during its public meetings, may soon see additional civil suits, as both a current and a former trustee are making similar accusations.

The development is part of a trend that has seen pro-parental rights trustees, teachers, and members of the public reporting they were silenced at school board meetings.

Darrell Furgason served as a trustee with the Chilliwack School District from 2018 to 2022, and continues to attend most board meetings as a member of the public since losing his re-election bid.

Mr. Furgason says that when he spoke at a public meeting in October 2023 and again on Feb. 13 this year, school board chair Willow Reichelt repeatedly muted his microphone, a move he believes was arbitrary and unwarranted. And now he plans to sue.

“There’s chunks of it missing on that video—her statements, my statements—and I do believe that’s a violation of their role as elected officials to just mute themselves when they don’t feel happy,” he said.

“They’ve done it twice to me and you'd think Willow [Reichelt] would learn? No, they don’t learn, so I decided I’m going to launch a lawsuit against the board and I’ve got video evidence. I’m going after them. There’s only one thing they’ll listen to and that’s the law.”

In October 2023, a lawsuit was launched by Lynda di Armani, a grandmother and former education assistant who says she was unable to comment without being censored during public meetings. She told The Epoch Times that since initiating her lawsuit, she has been given more opportunity to speak than before but still gets muted, with the chair saying she strays off-topic.

“You’re only allowed to talk about things that are on the agenda and they make really strict rules, so they used to cut me off all the time,“ she said. ”And they’ve shut down meetings. They will shut down a meeting for five minutes if they don’t like what you’re saying. This board is very left-wing




Sunday, February 25, 2024

An Argument for Free Speech, the “Lifeblood of Democracy”

Michael Glennon, professor of constitutional and international law at The Fletcher School, has been troubled by a growing trend to censor speech, from college campuses to social media to the halls of government itself. In a provocative new book, "Free Speech and Turbulent Freedom: The Dangerous Allure of Censorship in the Digital Era", he argues that such bans—while often well-meaning—are almost always counterproductive, creating more problems than they solve.

The book’s sweeping argument runs from 19th-century Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who set the foundations of First Amendment law, all the way to the most recent social media controversies.

Glennon spoke with Tufts Now about the importance of free speech and why he believes a “marketplace of ideas” is the best antidote to tyranny.

Q: In your introduction, you describe the change you’ve observed in students over the last few years when it comes to free speech. How did that inspire you to write this book?

A: Students’ attitudes toward free speech have changed dramatically. Nationwide, over half of college students believe that schools shouldn’t allow a speaker on campus who has previously expressed ideas they intensely dislike, and over 30 percent believe it’s acceptable to drown out speakers to prevent them from speaking.

Many of these students think that suppressing free speech is somehow necessary to preserve democracy. I wrote the book to suggest that this view is profoundly and dangerously mistaken.

Freedom of speech is the lifeblood of democracy. They both rest on the same premise: that people are able to sort out for themselves what’s true and what’s false, and that it’s for individuals, not the government, to judge what’s in their own best interests.




Thursday, February 22, 2024

When is "Zionist" hate speech?

Meta is considering expanding and “revisiting” its hate speech policy around the term “Zionist”, the Guardian has confirmed. The company reached out to and met with more than 10 Arab, Muslim and pro-Palestinian organizations on Friday to discuss the company’s plans to review the policy to ensure the term “Zionist” is not being used as a proxy for Jewish or Israeli people, according to an email the Guardian reviewed.

The policy as it exists allows “Zionist” to be used in “political discourse but removed when it’s used explicitly as a proxy for Jews or Israelis in a dehumanizing or violent way”, according to an email a Meta representative sent to the organizations inviting them to the Friday meeting. The email further stated the company was considering reviewing it in light of posts users and “stakeholders” have recently reported, the Meta representative wrote. The Intercept first reported the potential change in policy.

In an email to another organization, the Meta representative said the company’s current policies don’t allow users to attack others based on their protected characteristics such as nationality or religion and that the policy “requires a current understanding of how people use language to reference those characteristics”.

“While the term ‘Zionist’ often refers to a person’s ideology, which is not a protected characteristic, it can also be used to refer to Jewish or Israeli people,” the email read. “Given the increase in polarized public discourse due to current events in the Middle East, we believe it’s important to assess our guidance for reviewing posts that use the term ‘Zionist.’”

Organizations involved in discussions, which include MPower Change, 7amleh and Jewish Voice for Peace, expressed deep concern in the meeting about whether this change would further censor pro-Palestinian voices. Several reports commissioned by 7amleh and Human Rights Watch as well as one commissioned by Meta confirmed that Palestinian accounts have long been systematically silenced and stifled on Meta-owned platforms.

However, Meta asserts that an independent consultancy it works with, BSR, “did raise important concerns around under-enforcement of content ... and specific instances where they considered our policies and processes had an unintentional impact on Palestinian and Arab communities”.




Wednesday, February 21, 2024

100+ Yale professors sign up to protect free speech — and save school from being a hot mess

Elite higher education is a hot mess. But at least someone in the belly of the beast is trying to change that.

As campuses explode with bigotry and illiberalism, Yale professors are banding together to form a coalition defending academic freedom and free speech.

They’re the latest to join a growing movement across the country. Faculty at Columbia, Dartmouth, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton and the University of Chicago have all formed similar groups over the past year.

The latest initiative out of New Haven, called Faculty for Yale, has garnered the signatures of more than 100 professors who agree that “Yale must rededicate itself to its fundamental mission: to preserve, produce, and transmit knowledge.”

The group is calling for a reaffirmation of free speech principles, greater transparency from the administration and institutional neutrality.

Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science Nicholas Christakis is one of the groups’ organizers. He told The Post that what started with a dozen professors in December has blossomed into a university-wide coalition.

“Increasingly, universities have lost their way, and our objective is to get our university to refocus on its fundamental mission,” he told The Post.

Faculty for Yale is calling on the school to cease making institutional statements about contentious social and political issues: “Some people want the university to take stands. But of course these people always imagine that the university will take political stands that they support. They never consider the alternative.”

Advocates for institutional neutrality say schools shouldn’t be taking stances — and that, had administrators not set a precedent by commenting on everything from Trump’s election to Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal, their silence in the wake of October 7’s Hamas attacks on Israel wouldn’t have been so deafening.

The group formed after several illiberal skirmishes at Yale. In 2022, students shouted down a bipartisan panel on free speech and were so disruptive that a police escort was required. The year before, a law student was also threatened by administrators for using the term “trap house” in a party invitation.

“The alienation from the fundamental mission is leading to all these other problems — the suppression of speech, the constraints on academic freedom, the loss of public confidence, the growth of the bureaucracy,” Christakis explained. “All of those are symptoms of the underlying disease.”

“I’ve been concerned about students’ comfort with speaking out generally, including in classes,” she told The Post. “I’m someone who is relatively comfortable speaking out, but I’m doing this very much on behalf of my students.”

According to polling data from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), the state of free speech at Yale is grim. Some 73% of students say that they feel pressure to avoid discussing controversial topics, meanwhile a third say that using violence to stop speech is at least sometimes acceptable.

Adams has noticed a general degradation of free speech principles over her twenty years at Yale: “It’s been coming on somewhat gradually over the years … Today, free speech is of a delicate nature at universities and colleges.”

Christakis and Adams agree academia has reached an inflection point in the wake of October 7, when the chaos and extremism that erupted on college campuses — and particularly elite ones — exploded in a fashion that was impossible to ignore.

It became glaringly obvious to donors alumni, and the general public that these schools have lost sight of their mission, and have been inculcating extremism in students rather than classical values.

“I think a lot was crystallized by the transparent hypocrisy after the Hamas attack, and I do sense a change,” Christakis said.

Both professors hope that more faculty coalitions will emerge across academia — and they should.

As public faith in higher education craters, professors taking a stand in defense of liberal education might be the only way to reverse the trend. Where administrators and university presidents fail, it’s incumbent upon faculty to reorient colleges in the pursuit of truth and free expression.

But, while he’s heartened by the growing movement, Christakis is cautious about being too optimistic about the uphill battle for free speech. “I think there’s something up in academia, but whether it’s enough to turn the tide, I don’t know.”




Tuesday, February 20, 2024

‘Article Pfizer’ – France to punish criticism of mRNA vaccines

France, the nation that likes to boast about its approach to liberty and free speech, has passed a law through the National Assembly on Valentine’s Day that appears to impose severe penalties on those who criticise mRNA vaccines.

According to The People’s Network:

‘As of today, criticism of such therapeutic treatments, when deemed obligatory or recommended by the state, could result in up to three years of imprisonment or a fine of 45,000 euros. This bold legislative step, quickly dubbed ‘Article Pfizer’ by critics, represents a significant shift in the balance between public health policy and individual freedom of expression.’

As the LCP explains:

‘Article 4 creates a new offence aimed at punishing “provocation to abandon or refrain from undergoing therapeutic or prophylactic medical treatment”.’

In other words, opposition is considered a ‘sectarian aberration’.

Considering the law is particularly concerned with those who speak against government-recommended mRNA vaccines, and individuals who encourage others to avoid taking them, the natural follow-up question is, ‘Why is the government so desperate for people to take mRNA vaccines?’

It’s not as if the Covid era has delivered a glowing report on the safety and efficacy of mRNA technology. If anything, the fallout continues with serious questions being asked surrounding the rise in excess deaths and otherwise unexplained jumps in heart conditions, strokes, and conditions that have been linked to mRNA vaccine side-effect reports. Nations such as the UK have Covid vaccine compensation schemes already paying out small fortunes to the victims of adverse reactions. Not what you would call a glowing endorsement.

Is mRNA a safe technology? We don’t know – and neither does the French government.

Even if mRNA technology could be proven as 100 per cent safe, criminalising medical liberty is a worrying step in a totalitarian direction for a nation already in trouble for leaning toward draconian measures in other aspects of the nation. It is not as if Paris has been held under siege by the farming community for the best part of a month for failing to listen to citizen concerns…

The excuse given by the creators of the law is that it has been created in the interest of fighting future pandemics and protecting public health. Aside from real-world data suggesting mRNA vaccines did little, if anything, to combat the transmission of Covid – which is the only argument possible when toying with abolishing consent for the greater good – surely the best way to fight the next pandemic is to address gain of function experiments and other dangerous lab work which continues to go on around the world? This would include incidents like what happened in Wuhan earlier this year when a lab created a ‘zombie’ version of the Covid virus.

Regardless of your personal feelings toward mRNA technology, you might imagine that introducing criminal penalties to combat medical criticism would spark a major debate. It didn’t. France, like its Western and European counterparts, is still in the ‘yes men’ phase of nodding Covid-based policy through. It’s as if they are suffering a hangover from the disease of power experienced as a fever among politicians during Covid.

Aligning effective medical mandates to lucrative pharmaceutical products represents a significant shift in the concept of privacy and body autonomy.

Articles critical of the decision have asked what this says about the influence of Big Pharma on public policy… Is there an mRNA experimental vaccine on the horizon they want us to take against our will? Are we placing drug companies beyond the scope of public criticism?

This represents a worrying global precedent.

Since when did ‘science’ need to shelter under the protection of government authority? Most will agree, this is another abuse of the ‘greater good’ ideology slowly eating away the dream that was ‘liberty’.




Monday, February 19, 2024

Italy: Must not defend Israel

After five people were hospitalised on Tuesday in Naples, protesting over the Italian public broadcaster Rai’s coverage of the humanitarian crisis and death toll in Gaza, more protests have been announced for Wednesday in Milan and for Thursday in Bologna.

Five policemen were also injured in the clashes, according to reports. In videos, the protestors are seen moving towards the gate outside Rai’s headquarters in Naples, allegedly to hang a banner.

Access to the gate was blocked by police who attacked the protesters with truncheons. Clashes also happened in Turin. The number of people injured in Turin is not clear, but police identified more than 50 protesters.

The protests follow a statement by Rai’s CEO, Roberto Sergio, read by TV host Mara Venier during her program on Sunday, Domenica In. In it Sergio expressed solidarity with Israel and its “right to defence”, criticising singers Ghali and Dargen D’Amico’s who had called for a ceasefire and accused Israel of “genocide” from Sanremo’s stage on Saturday, the night of the final of Italy’s most important music festival.




Sunday, February 18, 2024

The seventh-grader and the First Amendment

by Jeff Jacoby

WHEN LIAM MORRISON, a seventh-grader in Middleborough, showed up at Nichols Middle School last March wearing a T-shirt bearing the message "There Are Only Two Genders," he was ordered by the principal to take it off. He politely refused, so the principal suspended him from class for the rest of the day.

He subsequently came to school wearing the T-shirt with the word "Censored" taped over the original message, so that it read: "There Are [Censored] Genders." The principal, impervious to irony, told him that was banned too. He was allowed to return to class only after putting on a different shirt.

Morrison knew, of course, that the message on his shirt contradicted a view promoted at Nichols Middle School, where students are encouraged in June to "wear your Pride gear to celebrate Pride Month" and there is an active Gay-Straight Alliance club. What he may not have known is that by wearing something to express a view frowned on at his school, he was exercising a right for which another middle school student waged a famous fight half a century ago.

In a landmark decision in 1969, the Supreme Court upheld the right of Mary Beth Tinker, a 13-year-old junior high student in Des Moines, to wear a black armband to class in protest against the Vietnam War. Tinker and some other students decided to wear such armbands after attending an antiwar rally. When school officials learned of their plans, they adopted a policy banning students from wearing armbands on pain of suspension. Tinker and the others defied the policy and were barred from class. With help from the Iowa Civil Liberties Union, the students filed a lawsuit, claiming that the school district had violated their First Amendment right to peacefully express their views.

The trial and appellate courts backed the school board. But when the case reached the Supreme Court the justices ruled decisively the other way. Neither students nor teachers "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate," wrote Justice Abe Fortas for the majority in Tinker v. Des Moines. The students who donned armbands had been wrongly punished "for a silent, passive expression of opinion, unaccompanied by any disorder or disturbance on [their] part," the court held. The students had not interfered with school routine. They had not endangered "the rights of other students to be secure and to be let alone." They had merely expressed a view not everyone shared.

The justices emphasized that the Des Moines schools had not disciplined students who wore other "symbols of political or controversial significance." By prohibiting only an antiwar symbol, the schools plainly intended to suppress a particular viewpoint. That, the high court declared, "is not constitutionally permissible."

Now it's Morrison's free speech that is at stake. As in Des Moines, the school prevailed at the district court level. Federal Judge Indira Talwani ruled in June that Middleborough officials were permitted to silence Morrison's speech on the grounds that students who identify as transgender "have a right to attend school without being confronted by messages attacking their identities."

But Morrison attacked no one, nor implied that anyone should be attacked. His first T-shirt merely conveyed his general view that gender is binary. His second T-shirt didn't even do that — it noted only that his view on the subject had been censored.

Mary Beth Tinker (wearing her black armband) sits with her mother at a Des Moines, Iowa, school board meeting in 1965.

Now Morrison has turned to the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston. His plea is like that of Mary Beth Tinker in the 1960s: Under the Constitution, even a middle school student may peacefully express an opinion. He is asking the judges to reaffirm the principle that government officers may not stifle certain ideas merely because some people find them offensive.

In court filings, Middleborough's lawyers argue that the school was entitled to suppress Morrison's message out of concern that it could have led to "disruption." Yet contrary messages are permitted. No discipline was imposed when a student came to class in a "He she they, it's all okay" T-shirt. School administrators cannot have it both ways, allowing students to express the popular side of a debatable issue but silencing those who disagree because their opinion might provoke an angry reaction.

The First Amendment does not bow to the heckler's veto. The expression of a disfavored opinion "may start an argument or cause a disturbance," the Supreme Court observed in Tinker, "but our Constitution says we must take this risk."

The bottom line is clear. Liam Morrison's school doesn't have to agree with his opinion. But it cannot punish him for expressing it.




Thursday, February 15, 2024

How To Manufacture Consensus And Silence Dissent

Manufacturing consensus refers to the idea that certain organizations, for example, the IPCC, and groups such as climate scientists, use various strategies to create the illusion of widespread agreement on an issue, even when it might not exist.

In historical cases, scientific communities ostracized individuals like Galileo Galilei who challenged scientific consensus.

While the specifics are complex, such instances raise questions about how dissent is handled and whether “consensus” reflects genuine agreement or pressure to conform.

When individuals and groups surround themselves with information and opinions that reinforce their existing beliefs they limit exposure to alternative viewpoints. This directly leads to groupthink and difficulty evaluating dissenting voices fairly.

Manufactured consensus can be achieved through a variety of means.

For example, excluding dissenting voices: This could involve silencing critics, marginalizing them within the organization, or even actively removing them from decision-making processes.

Controlling information is another tactic in manufacturing consensus. This might involve limiting access to information that contradicts the desired narrative by influencing the peer-reviewed publication process, manipulating data, or using biased reporting.

Finally, using social pressure and groupthink. This can involve creating an environment where individuals feel pressured to conform to the majority opinion, even if they have doubts.

The intersection of science, policy, and public discourse is complex and often contentious, especially on globally significant issues such as climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the recent legal case involving Dr. Michael E. Mann, a prominent climate scientist, exemplify the tensions that can arise when a so-called ‘scientific consensus’ is challenged.

However, does such a ‘scientific consensus’, claimed by both prominent climate scientists and large governmental institutions, really exist, or has it been manufactured?

Dissenting voices within the IPCC have sparked controversy over the years. Some scientists and experts have expressed concerns about the IPCC’s process and conclusions; a few have even left or been forced out of the organization.

One notable example is the case of Dr. Chris Landsea, a hurricane expert who resigned from the IPCC in 2005.

He expressed concerns that the IPCC was becoming politicized, particularly around the issue of hurricanes and global warming.

Landsea was concerned that statements made by IPCC officials were not supported by existing science and were, in his view, overemphasizing the link between hurricane activity and global warming without sufficient evidence.

Another example is economist Richard Tol, who left the IPCC in 2014, citing concerns about the organization’s summary reports, which he believed were too alarmist and did not accurately represent the underlying science.

Tol argued that the summary emphasized the negative impacts of climate change without equally presenting the uncertainties or the potential for adaptation and mitigation.

He believed that this lack of balance did not accurately reflect the underlying scientific research and economic analyses… something I discuss here.

There have also been instances of dissenting voices being removed from the IPCC.

In 2010, a group of scientists sent a letter to the IPCC, accusing the organization of suppressing dissenting views and engaging in “political manipulation.” The letter was signed by several prominent scientists.

Despite these controversies, the IPCC remains the leading authority on climate change, and its reports are widely respected and cited by policymakers and scientists around the world.

Recently, the defamation lawsuit by climate scientist Michael Mann against two bloggers has raised concerns about the suppression of critics of climate alarmism and the manufacturing of a consensus.

Mann’s lawsuit is a clear attempt to silence those who question his work and the broader narrative of catastrophic climate change.

This lawsuit and subsequent $1M-plus award will have a chilling effect on free speech, discouraging others from expressing dissenting views for fear of facing similar legal action.

These examples suggest that the climate change consensus is manufactured by silencing dissenting voices and promoting only the views of those who support the dominant narrative.

This has led to a skewed public perception of the scientific evidence and hinders a balanced and open discussion on climate change.

In conclusion, the actions of prominent climate scientists and large governmental institutions have brought to light concerns about the suppression of critics of climate alarmism and the potential manufacturing of a consensus.

It remains to be seen how such actions will impact the broader debate on climate change and the freedom of expression for those with dissenting views… But this is exactly how you manufacture a consensus.




Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Biden’s AI plan to censor you revealed: Researchers say Americans can’t ‘tell fact from fiction’

Twitter’s censorship of the Hunter Biden laptop story in 2020 could soon be possible on an industrial scale — thanks to AI tools being built with funding from his father’s administration, a report from Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee claimed Tuesday.

The report reveals how the Biden administration is spending millions on artificial intelligence research designed to make anti “misinformation” tools which could then be passed to social media giants.

And it discloses how researchers who got funding for the plan — known as “Track F” — emailed each other to say that Americans could not tell fact from fiction online, and that conservatives and veterans were even more susceptible than the public at large.

The report was published by the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Weaponization of Government, which is chaired by Jim Jordan (R-OH).

It casts new light on how funding from the National Sciences Foundation is being given to elite institutions including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Madison-Wisconsin and the University of Michigan, for a program called “Trust & Authenticity in Communication Systems.”

“Track F” was launched to identify “misinformation” and create “education and training materials” for those with “vulnerabilities to disinformation methods.”

It is part of a larger initiative, “The Convergence Accelerator Program,” that aims to solve issues with “significant national impact” by finding high-level research and which was quietly launched in 2021.

In theory, tools like this could be used to remove child pornography or deepfake photos — like the nude images created of Taylor Swift.

But the Republicans’ report details how researchers working on the technology aimed to censor the general public, with the $13 million program’s manager Michael Pozmantier describing it as “focused on combatting mis/disinformation.”

At MIT, one researcher told NSF officials “broad swaths of the public cannot effectively sort truth from fiction online.”

The researcher specifically called out “military veterans, older adults, military families” and those in “rural and indigenous communities” as particularly vulnerable to believing misinformation.

At the University of Michigan, one researcher who received millions suggested one possible outcome of the research was outsourcing content “moderation” decisions from social media platforms to government officials.

“Our misinformation service helps policy makers at platforms who want to… push responsibility for difficult judgments to someone outside the company… by externalizing the difficult responsibility of censorship,” a researcher at the University of Michigan’ said in a pitch to the NSF.

Another researcher at University of Wisconsin-Madison who received funding said the team, “was specifically focused on… skepticism regarding the integrity of U.S. elections and hesitancy related to COVID-19 vaccines.”

The researchers point to certain groups like those that read “the Bible or the Constitution” as subject to misinformation.

“Because interviewees distrusted both journalists and academics, they drew on this practice to fact check how media outlets reported the news” — when in actuality they weren’t fully informing themselves, the researcher said in a message.

A researcher at University of Washington which received funding to create a similar tool under another program — the Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace program — wrote to an NSF official that countering disinformation is “inherently political” and is ultimately “censorship




Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The Censorship Industrial Complex Strikes Again

Just when we thought the extent of the federal government's censorship had been fully revealed, an entirely new industry has been exposed as a partner in burying dissent and subverting the First Amendment.

This time, we're learning the National Science Foundation (NSF) worked with academic institutions — including the University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin, and others — to censor "misinformation" online through Big Tech platforms and search engines. Alarmingly, they're using new artificial intelligence technology to do it.

This means studies and data coming out of universities can no longer be trusted. Grants depend on promoting a government narrative, not pursuing the science. It also means overbearing censorship police on the most pressing issues facing Americans.

"In the name of combatting alleged misinformation regarding COVID-19 and the 2020 election, NSF has been issuing multi-million-dollar grants to university and non-profit research teams. The purpose of these taxpayer-funded projects is to develop artificial intelligence (AI)-powered censorship and propaganda tools that can be used by governments and Big Tech to shape public opinion by restricting certain viewpoints or promoting others," the House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government released in a stunning report this week.

Given the NSF's efforts to censor science and accurate reporting that cuts down its narratives – and, more importantly, its control – it's no wonder hundreds and hundreds of Townhall's stories about climate change and government lies surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have been flagged by Big Tech. These stories have been demonetized, stripping our work of advertising revenue.

When the federal government has tools to censor conservative outlets "at scale," making the censorship industrial complex more powerful than ever, it means putting us out of business. They want to bankrupt us by pulling our advertising revenue through bogus claims of "disinformation," "harm" or being "unreliable." That's always been the goal. Their latest tactic is to drown us with new technology and artificial intelligence. Documents prove they know exactly what they're doing and that their efforts to quash differing viewpoints or factual stories aren't a mistake or oversight. It's the entire goal.

"Federal bureaucrats, 'disinformation' researchers, and non-profit groups understood that their actions -- 'content moderation' and combatting so-called misinformation -- amounted to 'censorship.' And yet, NSF forged ahead, supporting new technologies that would essentially enable the censorship of online speech 'at scale,'" the report states. "From legal scholars, such as Jonathan Turley, to conservative journalists, NSF tracked public criticisms of its work in funding these projects. NSF went so far as to develop a media strategy that considered blacklisting certain American media outlets because they were scrutinizing NSF's funding of censorship and propaganda tools."

We are one of those conservative media outlets. Big government, Big Tech, and Big Academia are working together – against us. We're refusing to back down, but we need your help.

Our Townhall VIP program allows us to publish the truth and get around the big government censors. It gives us direct funding to conduct journalism on the issues you care about most. We've never been afraid to debunk government, Big Tech or academic "science" narratives with the facts, but we have been, and continue to be, punished for it.




Monday, February 12, 2024

Doctors Against Biden Administration’s Censorship of Covid commentary

By Peter A. McCullough, MD, MPH

“The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) filed an amicus curiae brief, on February 7, in the U.S. Supreme Court in opposition to the censorship imposed by the Biden Administration by pressuring social media to take down postings critical of Covid vaccination. Set for oral argument on Monday, March 18, this is one of the biggest cases before the Supreme Court this term.

Our national motto is not “In Vaccines We Trust,” or even “In Government We Trust,” AAPS states. “The right to criticize vaccines and government mandates of vaccines should not be abridged as brazenly sought” by the Biden Administration and its allies.

The AAPS amicus brief explains that “vaccine hesitancy” is not a psychological condition, as proponents of censorship pretend, “but rather is justified self-defense against a government that abuses its power by imposing vaccine mandates.”

Citing many historical examples of vaccine failures, this brief points out that the “right to criticize a vaccine is essential especially when government flagrantly ignores safety issues,” as the Biden Administration has concerning Covid vaccines.

 “The Surgeon General of Florida, our third largest state, cannot obtain answers from the Biden Administration about safety concerns with Covid vaccines,” states Andrew Schlafly as General Counsel of AAPS. “Instead of censoring issues raised about the Covid vaccines on social media, the Biden Administration officials should be providing answers to the questions raised,” he added.

The AAPS brief is particularly critical of an amicus brief filed by the AMA and other groups supportive of Biden’s vaccination policies. “If adopted, the AMA Amici’s arguments would green-light government censorship of the presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., whose motion to intervene in this case to protect his First Amendment rights was denied by this Court,” AAPS’s brief points out.

“When the federal government tells social media platforms to take action against postings, then our basic free speech rights are gravely endangered,” Mr. Schlafly observes. This case is captioned Murthy v. Biden (formerly Missouri v. Biden) (U.S. Sup. Ct. 23-411).

Thus far, AAPS and American Frontline Doctors (AFLDS) have filed briefs supporting free speech on important medical issues including vaccine safety in this landmark Supreme Court Case. Medical organizations filing briefs encouraging government censorship in the media and social media sadly include the American Medical Association, American Academy of Family Medicine, American College of Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Geriatrics Society.

I am a proud member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons which is one of the oldest medical societies, founded in 1943 as a pro-patient association of physicians who are in the practice of private medicine. Its motto means “all for the patient.” Please consider supporting AAPS as they gear up to fight for your personal medical freedom which includes the honest opinion and free speech of your doctors in the exam room and in the media.




Sunday, February 11, 2024

Update: Amazon Bowed to White House Pressure to Suppress Books Skeptical of COVID-19 Vaccines

Amazon yielded to pressure from President Joe Biden’s White House to suppress books that opposed COVID-19 vaccines, according to documents reviewed by The Daily Signal.

The House Judiciary Committee obtained the emails, which demonstrate the White House’s pressure on Amazon to suppress “anti-vax books” and the company’s decision to take action against the books.

Amazon employees strategized for a meeting with the White House on March 9, 2021, openly asking whether the administration wanted the retailer to remove books from its catalog.

“Is the [a]dmin asking us to remove books, or are they more concerned about search results/order (or both)?” one employee wrote.

On March 2, 2021, Slavitt complained to Amazon staff that “If you search for ‘vaccines’ under books, I see what comes up.”

“I haven’t looked beyond that, but if that’s what’s on the surface, it’s concerning,” he added.

Amazon decided that the company would not do a “manual intervention” on March 3, noting that a move against books expressing hesitancy on COVID-19 vaccines might undermine the company.

“The team/[public relations] feels very strongly that it is too visible, and will further compound the Harry/Sally narrative (which is getting the Fox News treatment today apparently), and won’t fix the problem long-term problem [sic] because of the customer behavior associations,” the Amazon staffer wrote.

The “Harry/Sally narrative” refers to Amazon’s controversial decision to remove “When Harry Became Sally,” Ryan T. Anderson’s book on the transgender movement, in February 2021. Amazon said the book violated its content policy. Anderson serves as president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and had previously served as a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)

The Amazon employee had moved to “widen the search light flag for COVID-19 [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] website re-direct so that it comes to the top of the page on more search keys,” however.

The staffer added that the White House will likely not consider any explanation of Amazon’s decisions “satisfactory.”

“The WH will probably ask why we don’t tag the content like FB/Twitter do if we aren’t taking it down,” the staffer wrote.

After the March 9 meeting at the White House, Amazon staff strategized how to respond to a negative story that Buzzfeed would publish discussing “COVID-19 related books for sale on Amazon.” Staff noted that they were “feeling pressure from the White House Taskforce” on the issue of books “related to vaccine misinformation.”

In this discussion, a staffer noted that “we did enable Do Not Promote for anti-vax books whose primary purpose is to persuade readers vaccines are unsafe or ineffective on 3/9, and will review additional handling options for these books with you, [redacted], and [redacted] on 3/19.”

That March 9 decision to change Amazon’s algorithm to avoid promoting “anti-vax books” appears to have happened after the meeting with White House staff.




Thursday, February 08, 2024

Homeland Security Cited Inaccurate Allegation to Censor New York Times Journalist

As the 2020 Election Day count dragged on into the next morning in the crucial swing state of Wisconsin, the New York Times campaign reporter Reid Epstein reported a hiccup at 4:52 a.m.: “Green Bay’s absentee ballot results are being delayed because one of the vote-counting machines ran out of ink and an elections official had to return to City Hall to get more.”

Eight minutes later Epstein sent a follow-up tweet giving the all-clear: “Clerk has returned with printer ink!”

This tiny drama from Wednesday, Nov. 4, would be lost to history but for the deep consternation it ignited among influential members of the government and tech industry. Details uncovered in the Twitter Files and revealed here for the first time show that Epstein’s tweet prompted immediate and mostly successful speech suppression efforts by the Department of Homeland Security and others who were intent on undermining any facts or claims that might possibly be used to question the integrity of the 2020 election.

The episode is of more than passing historical note because it is the first known case of the agency attempting to silence a social media account associated with a national newspaper – and because the Times, which has long professed to report the news “without fear or favor,” did little to push back against the censorship, even though nothing has emerged to invalidate Epstein’s reporting.

Epstein’s tweet set off immediate alarm bells in Wisconsin and Washington, D.C. At 5:11 a.m., 19 minutes after Epstein’s first tweet, an election clerk from another part of the state, Rachel Rodriguez, disputed the Times’ reporting on Twitter: “I’m very familiar with the ballot scanners Green Bay uses,” wrote Rodriguez. “There’s no ink involved.”

Four minutes later, at 5:15 a.m., the official Twitter account of the Wisconsin Elections Commission retweeted Rodriguez’s post commenting, “Rachel is correct.”

Except she was not. Although most of Green Bay’s voting machines did not use ink – the DS200, the primary vote-counting machine, relied on thermal tape – that year, there was another machine involved. Local officials, in expectation of higher turnout for the heated presidential race and newly eased rules concerning absentee ballots, opted to additionally use the DS450, a high-speed tabulator that prints results through an external ink-jet printer.

Rodriguez recently told RCI that her 2020 tweet was based on the mistaken understanding that Green Bay used only DS200 machines for the election. She also confirmed that if the city had indeed used a high-speed tabulator, like the DS450 or its variation, the DS850, then her tweet would have been mistaken, because that system uses ink cartridges through an external printer. She explained over phone that her tweet fact-checking Epstein got “way more traction than I thought.” Rodriguez added that “it was 3 a.m. and I was just being sarcastic.”

Her tweet did, indeed, set off a chain reaction at the highest levels..

“This is false,” Amy Cohen, the executive director of the National Association of State Election Directors wrote at 7:45 a.m. on the morning of Nov. 4, linking Epstein’s tweet. “There is no ink involved in the machines used in tabulation of the ballots, a fact confirmed by the state.” Cohen’s email was addressed to the election consortium organized by the Center for Internet Security (CIS), a contractor tasked with facilitating misinformation reports from a variety of stakeholders to DHS and private social media firms.

CIS quickly elevated the tweet in a “Misinformation Report” sent to officials at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the DHS sub-agency with a focus on policing social media. Brian Scully, a DHS official with CISA who then led a task force on “countering foreign influence,” attached a screenshot of the Epstein tweet and sent it to Twitter along with a note that claimed the “tweet alleges tabulation machine ran out of ink which caused delay in counting absentee ballots – there is no ink involved in tabulation machine (Green Bay, WI).”

Stacia Cardille, then a senior Twitter legal executive, thanked Scully for the alert and told the DHS official, “We will escalate.” She then forwarded the email on to a team devoted to “site integrity.” “Hi GETSupport, can you please review this report from the National Association of State Elections Directors by way of DHS?” wrote Cardille in an email time-stamped 8:30 a.m. “Please note the rebuttal information from the official handle of the state election director.”

By 9:27 that morning, Cardille wrote to inform Scully that the social media platform had “labeled this Tweet.” Scully emailed back to convey his appreciation.

The “label” action appears to refer to what’s known as a shadow ban. After receiving significant attention, the Epstein tweet disappeared for most users. The tweet became invisible for those who had quote-tweeted it and users could no longer reply to it. The public metrics of the tweet, with over 1,000 retweets and 3,180 ‘likes,’ as well as all reply tweets, vanished. Any user attempting to view the Times reporter’s tweet via direct link was greeted by a warning label that it might contain misinformation.

Adding to the uncertainty around the issue, the Green Bay Press Gazette, the local newspaper, also criticized Epstein’s tweet as inaccurate. Sandy Juno, who oversaw the 2020 election ballot count as the Brown County Clerk, told RealClearInvestigations that she may have also contributed to the misunderstanding about the voting machine issue and printer ink.

“I got a call from the media about the ink situation,” said Juno. “I said, ‘What do you mean, these machines don’t use ink?’“ But she misunderstood that the questions revolved around the count at the convention center using DS450 tabulators, not the sites using DS200 machines.

“So I might have started the confusion,” added Juno. The former clerk, who has since resigned and openly criticized Green Bay over its management of the election that year, said she is confident that the ballot certification numbers were correct. Juno confirmed that the high-speed tabulation machines, like the DS850 and DS450, use an attached ink-jet printer. Juno also noted that the KI Convention Center vote-counting site had photocopiers, which also use an ink cartridge, another possible explanation for the ink cartridge issue.

Questions swirling around the integrity of the 2020 Wisconsin vote have led to official court challenges and probes by Republicans. Those investigations, while failing to overturn the result, further confirmed the likely accuracy of the Epstein tweet.




Wednesday, February 07, 2024

White House pushed Amazon to ban ‘anti-vax’ books

The Biden administration pressured retail giant Amazon to limit access to books that questioned the safety or effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines during the pandemic, according to new documents released by a congressional committee.

Internal emails released on Monday (Tuesday AEDT) by Judiciary Committee chairman Republican Jim Jordan revealed Amazon put “anti-vax books” on a “Do Not Promote” order soon after meeting with White House officials, suggesting the government’s efforts to stifle debate surrounding vaccines on Twitter and Facebook, extended to other platforms.

“Is the Admin asking us to remove books, or are they more concerned about search results/order (or both)?” read one internal company email sent in advance of a White House meeting in March 2021.

“Who can we talk to about the high levels of propaganda and misinformation and disinformation of [sic] Amazon?” Andrew Slavitt, a former White House senior adviser for COVID-19 response, wrote to the online retailer.

In March, the Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in a lawsuit filed by attorneys general in Missouri and Louisiana alleging that the Biden administration colluded with social media companies to suppress the freedom of speech related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If you search for ‘vaccines’ under books, I see what comes up,” Mr Slavitt added in a follow up message. “I haven’t looked beyond that but if that’s what’s on the surface, it’s concerning.”

Mr Jordan dubbed the email batch the Amazon Files, mimicking the title Elon Musk gave to swathes of emails he released to the public after his purchase of the social media platform in 2022, which suggested White House officials had put pressure on the company to censor individuals and views it didn’t like.

“That’s right. Amazon caved to the pressure from the Biden White House to censor speech,” Jordan said in a social media post.

Tom Fitton, president of conservative think tank Judicial Watch, said “officials involved in this and other censorship should be under criminal and civil investigations!” on social media.

The latest set of emails, which did not include references to particular books, suggested Amazon staff initially resisted White House pressure, arguing in emails that its corporate guidelines did “not specifically address content about vaccines” and that “retailers are different than social media communities”.

In another email Amazon staff said they should not impose a “manual intervention” to remove certain book titles from appearing, arguing that it would be “too visible” and lead to further scrutiny from conservative news outlets, which had campaigned against censorship of viewpoints critical of Covid-19 vaccines.




Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Law schools must adopt free speech policies, after ABA passes rule

 Law schools must now adopt free speech policies in order to maintain their accreditation from the American Bar Association, following a key vote by the organization on Monday.

The ABA’s House of Delegates approved a new requirement that law schools develop and publish policies that “encourage and support the free expression of ideas.” Those policies must protect the rights of faculty, staff and students to communicate controversial or unpopular ideas and safeguard robust debate, demonstrations or protests.

They must also forbid disruptive activities that hinder free expression or substantially interfere with law school functions or activities.

The ABA’s law school accreditation rules have long protected the academic freedom of faculty, but this is first time they address free speech for the entire law school community.

The change comes after several high-profile incidents at elite law schools where student disrupted speakers and amid campus tensions over conflict over Israel’s war with Hamas.

Stanford University officials apologized to 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan after students disrupted his remarks to the campus Federalist Society chapter in March. The law school also mandated free speech training for students.

Yale Law School said it bolstered its commitment to free speech after a group of students in March 2022 disrupted a campus discussion with Kristen Waggoner, president of conservative religious rights group Alliance Defending Freedom. That incident prompted two federal judges to later say they would not hire clerks from Yale.

The ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar adopted the new free speech rule in November after receiving a wealth of public comments largely in support of the change. But the new requirement was not final until the House of Delegates, which is the ABA’s policymaking body, approved it.




Monday, February 05, 2024

Colleges still flunk free-speech test, but two in Louisiana improve a bit

Far too many colleges still aren’t getting the message that free speech should be the rule on campus, rather than that rules should seriously limit free speech.

That’s the main, and discouraging, takeaway from a report by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. Every year, FIRE reviews the speech-related policies at hundreds of colleges. While the good news is that the percentage of schools given a “red light” rating “for maintaining policies that clearly and substantially restrict free speech” has dropped in 12 years from more than 60% down to 20% (98 of 489), the trend in the past two years has ticked back upward.

On the other hand, only 63 schools, or 12.8%, “earn an overall ‘green light’ rating for maintaining policies that do not seriously imperil free expression.” The remaining 320, or a whopping 65.4%, are in a worrisome middle zone with policies that put too much of a damper on speech, although not as oppressively as at the red-light colleges.

For an example of a problematic standard, Adams State University in Colorado (whose rules, alas, are fairly typical) defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct that is of a sexual nature or is based on a person’s actual or perceived sex, gender ...,” including “verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” That definition is so broad that it can put a student at risk of a sexual harassment inquiry merely for unspoken body language that someone else finds “unwelcome.” So much for harmless flirting.

Meanwhile, Delaware State University “bans users of any campus technology ... from causing ‘offense to others’ and even from causing ‘embarrassment’ to the university.” Those Delaware standards are so vague that no student can possibly feel free to express himself on any topic of controversy because someone else might take “offense.”

Happily, four colleges — DePauw University in Indiana, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Radford University in Virginia and the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma — moved from yellow-light to green-light ratings. At least some people, therefore, are getting the message that the very heart of a university is free inquiry backed by free expression.

The situation in Louisiana isn’t good, but at least it is trending slightly less bad. Of the seven Louisiana colleges included in FIRE’s ratings, only McNeese State earned an all-clear “green light” rating. Three — LSU, UL Lafayette and UL Monroe — earned failing “red light” grades. A fourth, Louisiana Tech, actually is listed as having gotten worse, falling from yellow light to red light, but FIRE’s team tells me that Tech moved back to yellow after the list was compiled because it properly narrowed its “harassment” policy to ordinary legal limits.

To show how relatively simple FIRE makes it to show reasonable progress, consider the other two Louisiana schools in the survey, Tulane and Nicholls State. Both moved up from “red light” to “yellow light” ratings, meaning their policies still are problematic but are getting somewhat more reasonable.

Nicholls State had been red because its speech policy banned, with threats of official penalties, expressions that someone could label a “hateful action” merely because it “mocks” a person or group. Thus, FIRE reported, even “an off-color joke” or kidding by a “legitimate peer” could be subject to punishment. Nicholls moved to yellow, though, because it revised its standard so as to punish only expression that “constitutes a true threat, incitement to imminent lawless action, discriminatory harassment, or defamation.”

And Tulane, which as long ago as 1991 drew attention from Gambit Weekly for adopting speech codes and unduly race-conscious policies, now has moved from red to yellow because it jettisoned a rule that, on pain of punishment, demanded students communicate “only in ways that are kind and respectful.” FIRE said this loose definition creates a “myriad of concerns” because it is so open to differing interpretations.

It is entirely proper to try to create, informally, an atmosphere of kindness and mutual respect. To threaten formal punishment via wildly subjective and varying standards, though, is to put a big chill on the free exchange of values and ideas.

This should be easy: No university can encourage exploration of a universe of knowledge unless minds and tongues are free to offer alternative ideas and test them through rigorous debate.

Universities should be where ideas flourish and passion reigns. To be anything else is to fail, abjectly, at their missions.




Sunday, February 04, 2024

Florida judge dismisses Disney’s free-speech case against Ron DeSantis

A federal judge has dealt a blow to Walt Disney by dismissing the company’s claims that Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican governor, had violated its free speech rights by “retaliating” for its stance on the “Don’t Say Gay” law. 

Disney filed the lawsuit last year against DeSantis and other Florida officials for “weaponising the power of government to punish private business” after the company stated its opposition to the 2022 law, which restricted public schools’ ability to discuss LGBT+ issues.

Under DeSantis’s instructions, the Florida state legislature dissolved the private government that Disney had operated around its Orlando theme parks for decades.

DeSantis, who recently ended his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, frequently criticised “woke Disney” at campaign events and other appearances.

Disney, which plans to appeal against the decision, said in a statement that the case “will not end here”.

“If left unchallenged, this would set a dangerous precedent and give license to states to weaponise their official powers to punish the expression of political viewpoints they disagree with,” Disney said in a statement. “We are determined to press forward with our case.”

Disney had enjoyed unusual privileges in Florida for decades through the special taxation district, which had been created after a lobbying effort by Walt and Roy Disney in the 1960s. It is now run by a new five-member board controlled by DeSantis appointees. 

Disney last year accused Florida of a “targeted campaign of government retaliation — orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech”. Its complaint added that the moves threatened Disney’s business operations and the economic future in the region. Disney is the state’s largest private employer.

US District Judge Allen Winsor acknowledged that Florida’s decision to dismantle Disney’s special district — then known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District — worked “to Disney’s significant detriment”.

But Winsor dismissed allegations by Disney that the new board — known as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District — operates “under the governor’s thumb”.

“In fact, Disney has not alleged any specific injury from any board action,” the court’s opinion states. “Its alleged injury . . . is its operating under a board it cannot control.”

In his decision, Winsor concluded that “courts shouldn’t look to a law’s legislative history to find an illegitimate motivation for an otherwise constitutional statute”.

Disney has filed a separate lawsuit over control of the special district that is still pending in state court in Orlando.