Quotulatiousness

August 13, 2017

No one Everyone (now) expects the Google Inquisition

The decision by Google to fire dissident engineer James Damore over his “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” memo will likely have several divergent effects. One, of course, will be to encourage tech workers who may sympathize with some or all of Damore’s views to be more circumspect about expressing them (or even to be suspected of harbouring them). It will probably also encourage a more prosecutorial attitude among those most offended by Damore’s memo. We’re probably not far from the establishment of an inquisition-like body to sniff out the heretics:

What Damore’s termination tells you is that many in your field consider people with your beliefs to be unfit to work with. They hold opinions of you similar to those of former senior Google employee Yonatan Zunger, who wrote about Damore, saying:

    “Do you understand that at this point, I could not in good conscience assign anyone to work with you? I certainly couldn’t assign any women to deal with this, a good number of the people you might have to work with may simply punch you in the face, and even if there were a group of like-minded individuals I could put you with, nobody would be able to collaborate with them.” (Emphasis mine.)

If you are on the right, you probably find it hard to imagine that any reasonably person could read Damore’s memo and think that it reveals the author to be sexist, punchable, or a danger to women’s careers. It appears to you that Damore was excommunicated for questioning the progressive diversity narrative in a most respectful manner.

[…]

Many on the right fear SJWs. The website Breitbart, highly influential among conservatives and the Trump administration, interviewed an anonymous Googler who said in part:

    “Several managers have openly admitted to keeping blacklists of the employees in question, and preventing them from seeking work at other companies. There have been numerous cases in which social justice activists coordinated attempts to sabotage other employees’ performance reviews for expressing a different opinion. These have been raised to the Senior VP level, with no action taken whatsoever…There have been a number of massive witch hunts where hundreds of SJWs mobilize across the corporate intranet to punish somebody who defied the Narrative…I always fear for my job and operate with the expectation that I will be purged unless something changes…”

Many Business Insider readers won’t trust an anonymous Breitbart interview, but for what’s relevant to this article, please do trust that this Googler’s views accurately reflects how many on the right think about SJWs.

Interestingly, this is similar to how the original Inquisition came about:

The Inquisition was not born out of desire to crush diversity or oppress people; it was rather an attempt to stop unjust executions. Yes, you read that correctly. Heresy was a crime against the state. Roman law in the Code of Justinian made it a capital offense. Rulers, whose authority was believed to come from God, had no patience for heretics. Neither did common people, who saw them as dangerous outsiders who would bring down divine wrath. When someone was accused of heresy in the early Middle Ages, they were brought to the local lord for judgment, just as if they had stolen a pig or damaged shrubbery (really, it was a serious crime in England). Yet in contrast to those crimes, it was not so easy to discern whether the accused was really a heretic. For starters, one needed some basic theological training — something most medieval lords sorely lacked. The result is that uncounted thousands across Europe were executed by secular authorities without fair trials or a competent assessment of the validity of the charge.

The Catholic Church’s response to this problem was the Inquisition, first instituted by Pope Lucius III in 1184. It was born out of a need to provide fair trials for accused heretics using laws of evidence and presided over by knowledgeable judges. From the perspective of secular authorities, heretics were traitors to God and the king and therefore deserved death. From the perspective of the Church, however, heretics were lost sheep who had strayed from the flock. As shepherds, the pope and bishops had a duty to bring them back into the fold, just as the Good Shepherd had commanded them. So, while medieval secular leaders were trying to safeguard their kingdoms, the Church was trying to save souls. The Inquisition provided a means for heretics to escape death and return to the community.

As Karl Marx wrote in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon:

Hegel remarks somewhere that all the events and personalities of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.

June 25, 2017

South Africa’s new hate speech laws may carry Apartheid-era legacies

Filed under: Africa, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Martin van Staden reports on post-Apartheid South Africa’s drift back toward repressive rules, veiled by political correctness:

After the end of Apartheid in 1994, nobody would have guessed that South Africa would be making many of the same mistakes as the Apartheid regime only two decades later, from censoring speech to violating agricultural property rights.

In our process of transformation, we were supposed to move away from the Apartheid mentality. Instead, we have doubled down on many of the same policies: the so-called Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill of 2016 is perhaps the gravest threat to freedom of expression which South Africans have ever faced; at least since the Suppression of Communism Act was repealed.

The Hate Speech Bill of 2016

The bill, which is still being debated in Parliament, provides that someone guilty of hate speech can be imprisoned for up to three years, and, if they are convicted of it again, up to 10 years. Given the serious punitive nature of this sanction, you would imagine the bill has a strict definition of “hate speech.” But you would be wrong.

Hate speech is defined as any communication which is insulting toward any person or group, and which demonstrates a clear intention to bring contempt or ridicule based on 17 protected grounds. Such grounds include race, gender, sex, belief, culture, language, gender identity, and occupation or trade. But insult is an extremely low threshold of offense, especially if it is considered with protected characteristics like belief and occupation. In other words, someone can theoretically be imprisoned for saying, “Politicians are thieving liars!”

Recently, the former leader of the opposition tweeted that “not all” of the legacies of colonialism have had detrimental results in South Africa. The ruling party subsequently called on Parliament to fast-track the Hate Speech Bill so instances like that can be dealt with. This signifies that political persecution is not off the table, and that the ruling party has shown its interest in using the proposed law against opponents.

[…]

Apartheid was fundamentally an anti-property rights system masquerading as a Western democracy fighting against Soviet communism. American economist Walter Williams wrote in 1990 that “South Africa’s history has been a centuries-long war on capitalism, private property, and individual rights.”

Duncan Reekie of the University of the Witwatersrand agreed that “Protestations from Pretoria notwithstanding, the South African regime has been one of national socialism.” Indeed, wage boards, price control boards, and spatial planning boards were commonplace in the effort to suppress black South Africans’ desire to engage in the economy on the same terms as whites.

The Suppression of Communism Act was used exclusively for political persecution by the previous regime. Anyone of significance who opposed racist policies in public could be branded as “communists” who wanted to overthrow the government. The Hate Speech Bill will have the same effect, but it will be shielded by the veneer of political correctness. With the new Bill, the government claims to give effect to a democratic mandate – a privilege the Apartheid regime did not enjoy – but the consequences will be substantially the same: a chilling effect throughout the country for anyone who dares to oppose the political class.

June 5, 2017

“Islam now enjoys the same kind of moral protection from blasphemy and ridicule that Christianity once (wrongly) enjoyed”

Filed under: Britain, Government, Media, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Brendan O’Neill on Facebook:

One of the major problems we face is not that our society is too mean about Islam, but that it flatters Islam too much. Islam now enjoys the same kind of moral protection from blasphemy and ridicule that Christianity once (wrongly) enjoyed. All last week I received furious emails and messages in response to two articles I wrote about the Manchester attack, telling me that using the word Islamist is Islamophobic, because it demeans Islam and its adherents by suggesting they have something to do with terrorism. This is why our political leaders so rarely use the terms Islamism, radical Islam and Islamic terrorism: because they want to avoid offending Islam and also because they don’t want to stir up what they view as the public’s bovine, hateful prejudices. This censorious privilege is not extended to any other religion. We do not avoid saying “Catholic paedophiles” about the priests who molested children for fear of tarring all Catholics with the same brush. We happily say “Christian fundamentalist”about people who are Christian and fundamentalist. We use “Buddhist extremists” to describe violent Buddhist groups in Myanmar. Only Islam is ringfenced from tough discussion; only terms that at some level include the word “Islam” are tightly policed; only criticism of Islam is deemed a mental illness — Islamophobia.

This is incredibly dangerous. This censorious flattery of Islam is, in my view, a key contributor to the violence we have seen in recent years. Because when you constantly tell people that any mockery of their religion is tantamount to a crime, is vile and racist and unacceptable, you actively invite them, encourage them in fact, to become intolerant. You license their intolerance; you inflame their violent contempt for anyone who questions their dogmas; you provide a moral justification for their desire to punish those who insult their religion. From the 7/7 bombers to the Charlie Hebdo murderers to Salman Abedi in Manchester, all these terrorists — *Islamist terrorists* — expressed an extreme victim mentality and openly said they were punishing us for our disrespect of Islam, mistreatment of Muslims, ridiculing of Muhammad, etc. The Islamophobia industry and politicians who constantly say “Islam is great, leave Islam alone!” green-light this violence; they furnish it with a moral case and moral zeal.

There are no quick fixes to the terror problem, but here is a good start: oppose all censorship and all clampdowns on offence and blasphemy and so-called “Islamophobia”. Every single one of them, whether they’re legal, in the form of hate-speech laws, or informal, in the guise of self-censoring politicians being literally struck dumb on TV because they cannot muster up the word “Is…is…is…islamist”. This will at least start the process of unravelling the Islamist victimhood narrative and its bizarre, violent and officially sanctioned sensitivity to criticism. And if anyone says this is “punching down” — another intellectual weapon in the armoury of Islam-protecting censorship — tell them that it is in fact punching up: up against a political class and legal system that has foolishly and outrageously sought to police criticism of a religion. This means that the supposedly correct response to terror attacks — “don’t criticise Islam” — is absolutely the worst response. Making criticism of Islam as commonplace and acceptable as criticism of any other religion or ideology is the first step to denuding Islamist terrorism of its warped moral programme, and it will also demonstrate that our society prizes freedom of speech over everything else — including your religion, your God, your prophets, your holy book and your feelings.

May 28, 2017

Britain’s general election – “Except for Europe, the contest is between an authoritarian hag and a Fenian scumbag”

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Sean Gabb is holding his nose and voting Tory this time around, but he’s not happy about it:

For the avoidance of doubt, I still intend to vote Conservative in this dreadful election. And, if Labour seems to be catching up in the opinion polls, so, I suspect, will enough people to give the Conservatives a decent majority. The general election is a rerun of last year’s Referendum. There is no other consideration that ought to sway anyone who is looking beyond our present circumstances. We vote Conservative. We leave the European Union. We hope and work for a realignment in British politics. Except for this, however, I would be dithering between another vote for UKIP and a spoiled ballot. Except for Europe, the contest is between an authoritarian hag and a Fenian scumbag.

Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have made their responses to the Manchester Bombings. According to the BBC,

    Theresa May has urged world leaders to do more to combat online extremism, saying the fight against so-called Islamic State is “moving from the battlefield to the internet.”

What she has in mind is outlined in the Conservative Manifesto:

    [W]e will establish a regulatory framework in law to underpin our digital charter and to ensure that digital companies, social media platforms and content providers abide by these principles. We will introduce a sanctions regime to ensure compliance, giving regulators the ability to fine or prosecute those companies that fail in their legal duties, and to order the removal of content where it clearly breaches UK law. We will also create a power in law for government to introduce an industry-wide levy from social media companies and communication service providers to support awareness and preventative activity to counter internet harms, just as is already the case with the gambling industry.

If this hardly needs translating into Plain English, I will make the effort. The Conservatives are proposing to censor the Internet. Anyone who, in this country, publishes opinions or alleged facts the authorities dislike will be prosecuted. If these are published abroad, access to the relevant websites will be blocked. Internet companies will be taxed to pay for a Ministry of Propaganda to go beyond anything now provided by the BBC.

We are supposed to think the main targets of censorship will be the radical Moslems. I have no doubt some effort will be made to shut them up. The main targets, however, will be on the nationalist right. These are the ones who will be harried and prosecuted and generally threatened into silence. The only person so far to have lost a job on account of the bombings is the LBC presenter Katie Hopkins. She made a sharp comment on air about the Moslems, and was out. Other than that, we have had a continual spray of propaganda about the Religion of Peace, and how its core texts have nothing to do with suicide bombings or mass-rape or disorder.

In Britain, in Europe, in America, there are powerful interests that are itching to censor the Internet. It is the Internet that has made us cynical. It is the Internet that is giving us the probable truth. It is because of the Internet that the authorities are being held to account. Never let a good atrocity go to waste. Get the people ready for censorship while the bodies are still being reassembled.

May 20, 2017

Net Neutrality Nixed: Why John Oliver is Wrong

Filed under: Humour, Law, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 19 May 2017

Progressives are freaking out now that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is beginning the repeal of Net Neutrality regulations, which give the government the right to regulate Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
—————-
The main arguments in favor of Net Neutrality are really arguments guarding against hypotheticals: that ISPs could otherwise block and censor content (they never have) or that they’ll run their operations like shakedowns, requiring content providers to pay up or slow their traffic to molasses. The main documented instance of an ISP favoring one content provider over others wasn’t sinister collusion. Metro PCS offered unlimited YouTube in a budget data plan but not unlimited Hulu and Netflix, because YouTube had a compression system that could be adapted to the carrier’s low-bandwidth network. In a different context, critics might have applauded Metro PCS, since bought by T-Mobile, for bringing more options to lower-income customers.

Net Neutrality is a proxy battle over what type of internet we want to have — one characterized by technocratic regulations or one based on innovation and emergent order. Progessives are generally suspicious of complex systems existing without powerful regulators present and accounted for. Small-government folks are repulsed by bureaucrats in general, and think the internet will fair better in a state of benign neglect. The FCC has come down on the side of an organic internet, instead of treating the internet more like a public utility.

We don’t know how the internet is going to evolve over time, but neither do the government administrators trying to rein it in. But given the record of free-market innovation vs. government-regulated services, the odds are with market forces and entrepreneurs.

Written and performed by Andrew Heaton, with writing assistance from Sarah Rose Siskind and David Fried.

Edited by Austin Bragg and Siskind.

Produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg.

Theme Song: Frozen by Surfer Blood.

May 10, 2017

Raging Bitch, Good Shit, and Flying Dog Beer’s Fight for Free Speech

Filed under: Business, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 16:21

Published on 10 May 2017

“I’ve lived my life as a pro free enterprise person,” explains Flying Dog Brewery CEO Jim Caruso. “Not pro business. Pro free enterprise, pro consumer choice, artisanal manufacturing.”

A central player in America’s craft beer revolution, Caruso is dedicated to creating something special both inside and outside the bottle. Famed artist Ralph Steadman, best known for his iconic illustrations for work by Hunter S. Thompson, creates all of Flying Dog’s labels. It was Steadman who spontaneously wrote on his first commissioned label “good beer, no shit.” And it was this label that kicked of Flying Dog’s first — but not last — fight with government censors.

Caruso sat down with Reason’s Nick Gillespie to talk about his run-ins with the state, why he is a libertarian, and the how his values keep him happy.

“I’m a happy person. And I attribute that to living as an individual, taking self responsibility, self reliance, but connected to society. It’s not a lone ranger sort of thing.”

Cameras by Meredith Bragg, Todd Krainin, and Mark McDaniel. Edited by Bragg.

April 24, 2017

A new anti-censorship tool – Slitheen

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The Register‘s Thomas Claburn on a new tool being developed in Canada to aid internet users in countries with hard censorship access material their governments don’t want them to see:

Computer boffins in Canada are working on anti-censorship software called Slitheen that disguises disallowed web content as government-sanctioned pablum. They intend for it to be used in countries where network connections get scrutinized for forbidden thought.

Slitheen – named after Doctor Who aliens capable of mimicking humans to avoid detection – could thus make reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights look like a lengthy refresher course in North Korean juche ideology or a politically acceptable celebration of cats.

In a presentation last October, Cecylia Bocovich, a University of Waterloo PhD student developing the technology in conjunction with computer science professor Ian Goldberg, said that governments in countries such as China, Iran, and Pakistan have used a variety of techniques to censor internet access, including filtering by IP address, filtering by hostname, protocol-specific throttling, URL keyword filtering, active probing, and application layer deep packet inspection.

In an email to The Register, Goldberg said the software is based on the concept of decoy routing.

“The basic idea behind decoy routing is that the (censored) user’s computer makes an Internet connection to some non-censored (‘overt’) site, such as a site with cute cat videos,” said Goldberg. “However, it embeds a hidden cryptographic tag in its connection, which only a particular Internet router somewhere on the path between the user and the cute cat site can see. That router, seeing the tag, then redirects the traffic to a censored (‘covert’) site, say Wikipedia.”

As Bocovich and Goldberg explain in a paper [PDF] they co-authored, these tags make the web session’s master TLS secret available to a cooperating ISP. This allows the ISP to conduct what amounts to a friendly man-in-the-middle attack by having a network relay it controls open a proxy connection to the censored website.

April 14, 2017

Eugene Volokh: Free Speech on Campus

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 4 Apr 2017

Eugene Volokh has a few things to say about things that aren’t supposed to be said. Volokh, a professor of free speech law at U.C.L.A., has seen books banned, professors censored, and the ordinary expression of students stifled on university campuses across the nation.

Volokh believes free speech and open inquiry, once paramount values of higher education, are increasingly jeopardized by restrictive university speech codes. Instead of formally banning speech, speech codes discourage broad categories of human expression. “Hate speech. Harassment. Micro-aggressions,” Volokh says. “Often they’re not defined. They’re just assumed to be bad, assumed they’re something we need to ban.”

Edited by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Meredith Bragg and Jim Epstein.

April 13, 2017

QotD: Soviet statistics

Filed under: Europe, History, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Being a correspondent in Moscow, I found, was, in itself, easy enough. The Soviet press was the only source of news; nothing happened or was said until it was reported in the newspapers. So all I had to do was go through the papers, pick out any item that might be interesting to readers of the Guardian, dish it up in a suitable form, get it passed by the censor at the Press Department, and hand it in at the telegraph office for dispatch. One might, if in a conscientious mood, embellish the item a little … sow in a little local colour, blow it up a little, or render it down a little according to the exigencies of the new situation. The original item itself was almost certainly untrue or grotesquely distorted. One’s own deviations, therefore, seemed to matter little, only amounting to further falsifying what was already false.

This bizarre fantasy was very costly and elaborate and earnestly promoted. Something gets published in Pravda; say, that the Soviet Union has a bumper wheat harvest – so many poods per hectare. There is no means of checking; the Press Department men don’t know, and anyone who does is far, far removed from the attentions of foreign journalists. Soviet statistics have always been almost entirely fanciful, though not the less seriously regarded fro that. When the Germans occupied Kiev in the 1939-45 war they got hold of a master Five Year Plan, showing what had really been produced and where. Needless to say, it was quite different from the published figures. This in no way affected credulity about such figures subsequently, as put out in Russia, or even in China.

Malcolm Muggeridge, Chronicles of Wasted Time, 2006.

March 13, 2017

“Intersectionality” as an Orwellian “smelly little orthodoxy”

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Andrew Sullivan is still disturbed by the Middlebury College incident in Vermont, calling it “the latest in the assault on liberal democracy”:

But what grabbed me was the deeply disturbing 40-minute video of the event, posted on YouTube. It brings the incident to life in a way words cannot. At around the 19-minute mark, the students explained why they shut down the talk, and it helped clarify for me what exactly the meaning of “intersectionality” is.

“Intersectionality” is the latest academic craze sweeping the American academy. On the surface, it’s a recent neo-Marxist theory that argues that social oppression does not simply apply to single categories of identity — such as race, gender, sexual orientation, class, etc. — but to all of them in an interlocking system of hierarchy and power. At least, that’s my best attempt to define it briefly. But watching that video helps show how an otherwise challenging social theory can often operate in practice.

It is operating, in Orwell’s words, as a “smelly little orthodoxy,” and it manifests itself, it seems to me, almost as a religion. It posits a classic orthodoxy through which all of human experience is explained — and through which all speech must be filtered. Its version of original sin is the power of some identity groups over others. To overcome this sin, you need first to confess, i.e., “check your privilege,” and subsequently live your life and order your thoughts in a way that keeps this sin at bay. The sin goes so deep into your psyche, especially if you are white or male or straight, that a profound conversion is required.

Like the Puritanism once familiar in New England, intersectionality controls language and the very terms of discourse. It enforces manners. It has an idea of virtue — and is obsessed with upholding it. The saints are the most oppressed who nonetheless resist. The sinners are categorized in various ascending categories of demographic damnation, like something out of Dante. The only thing this religion lacks, of course, is salvation. Life is simply an interlocking drama of oppression and power and resistance, ending only in death. It’s Marx without the final total liberation.

It operates as a religion in one other critical dimension: If you happen to see the world in a different way, if you’re a liberal or libertarian or even, gasp, a conservative, if you believe that a university is a place where any idea, however loathsome, can be debated and refuted, you are not just wrong, you are immoral. If you think that arguments and ideas can have a life independent of “white supremacy,” you are complicit in evil. And you are not just complicit, your heresy is a direct threat to others, and therefore needs to be extinguished. You can’t reason with heresy. You have to ban it. It will contaminate others’ souls, and wound them irreparably.

March 8, 2017

“…the anti-fascists look a lot closer [to] Nazi brownshirts than the people they’re trying to stop”

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Megan McArdle on the sudden willingness — even eagerness — on the part of progressive activists to move from agitation to literally beating up the objects of their hatred:

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you. Or so we were told by our mothers. But events on both sides of continent in recent weeks seem to belie that old adage. A new generation of protesters has come to the conclusion that words do hurt — and that therefore, extreme measures, up to and including physical force, are justified to keep them from being spoken.

At Berkeley last month, a riot broke out over a speech planned by Milo Yiannopoulos, a sort of professional conservative troll who worked for Breitbart until a scandal over some hebephilic remarks cost him his job and his book contract. This was not simply setting things on fire or breaking a few windows (though those would have been quite bad enough); multiple people seem to have been beaten by the “antifas” (anti-fascists). In the videos that have been released so far, the anti-fascists look a lot closer [to] Nazi brownshirts than the people they’re trying to stop. There was further violence this weekend in Berkeley at a pro-Trump march.

Then a few days ago, a speech by Charles Murray at Middlebury College in Vermont also turned violent, and a professor was injured as she walked with Murray after his speech. Murray has given his own personal account of what occurred, and a lengthy video of the proceedings is available on the web. They are not as frightening as what happened at Berkeley, but they are plenty horrifying enough: they shouted him down, refusing to allow him to speak, then banged on the building and pulled fire alarms when he was transferred him to a private room to do a streaming talk they were unable to disrupt. Finally, they tried to physically prevent him from leaving.

The fact that two different speeches triggered violence at two different campuses within the space of a month suggests that we may be entering into a new and more dangerous phase of the anti-free-speech movement. Free-speech advocates, particularly the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, have done a great job pushing back against overweening college administrations that try to curtail the speech of students and professors. But these are actions coming from the students. Who do you sue to keep a mob of students from resorting to the heckler’s veto, or their fists, to combat ideas they don’t like?

As more than a few folks on the right have pointed out, if the “antifa” activists continue translating their distaste for certain words and concepts into actual violence, the right is significantly better armed and nobody in their right mind should want to provoke a descent into reciprocal violence when the other side has all the weapons.

February 18, 2017

Twitter turns on the free speech filters

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Forbes, Kalev Leetaru reports on Friday’s introduction of “hate speech” filtering on Twitter:

Earlier this morning social media and the tech press lit up with reports of users across Twitter receiving half day suspensions en masse as the platform abruptly rolled out its decade-overdue hate speech filter to its platform. The company has refused to provide details on specifically how the new system works, but using a combination of behavioral and keyword indicators, the filter flags posts it deems to be violations of Twitter’s acceptable speech policy and issues users suspensions of half a day during which they cannot post new tweets and their existing tweets are visible only to followers. From the platform that once called itself “the free speech wing of the free speech party” these new tools mark an incredible turn of events for the company that just two years ago famously wrote Congress to say it would do everything in its power to uphold the right of terrorists to post freely to its platform. What does Twitter’s new interest in hate speech tell us about the future of free speech online?

It was just a year ago that I wrote on these very pages about Twitter’s evolution from bastion of free speech to global censor as it stepped back from its utopian dreams as they collided with the realities of running a commercial company. Yet, even after changing its official written policy on acceptable speech and touting that it would do more to fight abuse, little has changed over the past year. Indeed, from its inception a decade ago, Twitter has done little to address the problem of hateful and abusive speech on its platform.

[…] the concern here is that Twitter has thus far refused to provide further detail into at least the broad contours of the indicators it is using, especially when it comes to the particular linguistic cues it is concerned with. While offering too much detail might give the upper hand to those who would try to work around the new system, it is important for the broader community to have at least some understanding of the kinds of language flagged by Twitter’s new tool so that they can offer more informed feedback to help it shape that tool given that both algorithms and people are far from infallible. Simply rolling out a new tool that begins suspending users without warning or recourse and without any visibility into how those decisions are being made is a textbook example of how not to roll such a feature out to a user community in that the tool instantly becomes confrontational rather than educational.

Moreover, it is unclear why Twitter chose not to permit users to contest what they believe to be a wrongful suspension. The company did not respond to a request for comment on why suspended users are not provided a button to appeal a suspension they believe is due to algorithmic or human error or lack of contextual understanding. Given that the feature is brand new and bound to encounter plenty of unforeseen contexts where it could yield a wrong result, it is surprising that Twitter chose not to provide a recovery mechanism where it could catch these before they become news.

H/T to Peter Grant for the link.

February 6, 2017

Social media, big data, and (lots of) profanity

Filed under: Media, Politics, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Scott Adams linked to this video (which is very NSFW), discussing how social media platforms can use their analytic tools to “shape” communications among their users:

January 15, 2017

QotD: Like the Bourbons, the Guardian learns nothing and forgets nothing

Filed under: Europe, Law, Liberty, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The Bourbons, said Talleyrand, learned nothing and forgot nothing. Sometimes it seems as if our modern liberals are just like the Bourbons. Here, for example, is a headline from the U.K.’s hard-line liberal newspaper, the Guardian:

FAR-RIGHT PARTY STILL LEADING IN DUTCH POLLS, DESPITE LEADER’S CRIMINAL GUILT.

What was the crime of which the far-right leader — Geert Wilders — was guilty? It was incitement to discrimination; in other words, not even discrimination itself. He had discriminated against no one, but made a speech in which he called for “fewer Moroccans.” Significantly, the Guardian gave no further details of what Wilders meant by this — whether, for example, he proposed that fewer Moroccan immigrants should be allowed into the Netherlands, that the illegal Moroccan immigrants should be deported, or that Dutch citizens of Moroccan descent should be deprived of their citizenship and forcibly repatriated. For the Guardian, it hardly seemed to matter.

More significant still was the Guardian’s inability, even after the victory of Donald Trump in the United States—which must, in part, have been attributable to a revolt against political correctness — to see that the conviction of Wilders on a charge so patently designed to silence the fears of a considerable part of the population couldn’t possibly reduce his popularity. By illustrating the moral arrogance of the political class against which Wilders’s movement is a reaction, the charge might actually make him more popular.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Incitement to Hypocrisy: The Netherlands unevenly applies a law forbidding provocation”, City Journal, 2016-12-28.

November 25, 2016

Censorship in the UK

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Commenting on the recent fine handed down by a Dutch court against opposition leader Geert Wilders, Perry de Havilland points out that it’s not just governments on the continent that are working so hard to quash free speech:

Now whatever you think of Wilders, this has been an astonishing attempt to simply shut down free expression in a western nation. And of course this will not silence anyway and will probably prove to be a spectacular establishment own-goal.

And in the UK, more and more infrastructure to censor internet porn is being put into place. Why is this related? Because once control infrastructure exists, it can and will be re-purposed, in much the same way the Department for Education’s “counter extremism unit“, set up ostensibly to prevent violent Islamic extremist views being taught in UK schools, gets re-purposed to shut down a gay secular journalist who has not called for any violence against anyone.

All across the Western World, political verities and assumption are starting to shift, and almost nothing can be accurately predicted any more. We live in times that are a danger and opportunity in equal measure, and people who care about liberty will have to get their hands dirty, making common cause with others who will not pass any purity sniff tests but with whom we share common enemies (however care does need to be taken in such matters for sometimes the enemy of my enemy is my enemy … but sometimes not), however now is the time for engagement and action.

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