“Everything About This Is Insane” — Begging Big Tech To Be Arbiters Of Truth Will Ultimately BackfireTyler DurdenTue, 05/26/2020 — 16:45
‘Be careful what you wish for’. To all those calling for more censorship of “the Other’s” voices — urging Big Tech companies to become managers in the ministry of truth to rescue the world from dissent, disagreement, and dissolution — there is a simple message — it will ultimately backfire in ways even Huxley and Orwell could not imagine.
As Evan Greer argues below “we need to address the problem of viral disinformation at its root.”
In the United States, progressive groups and lawmakers rightly concerned about the rise of far right online activity, and attempts by state actors to manipulate elections, have increasingly turned to calls for Internet censorship, deplatforming, and more aggressive moderation by companies like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.
Okay I’ll admit it. I still use Facebook. When I logged on last night I saw something I had never seen before: a notification that read “Partly false information found in your post by independent fact checkers.” I was surprised, but figured maybe it was a glitch or related to some joke meme I had posted or something like that. I clicked it to learn more.
Screenshot of the notification Facebook sent me.
It turned out that “Independent fact-checkers” at USATODAY had flagged a VICE article that I shared, and am quoted in, about the reauthorization of the Patriot Act and the ongoing fight around amendments to rein in mass government surveillance. This is an issue that my organization, Fight for the Future, has been working on for the better part of a decade. The post now contains a prominent flag shown to everyone who sees it, effectively censoring the original article and replacing it with a large link to the USATODAY “fact checking” piece instead.
Screenshot of my original post, now containing Facebook’s flag.
I clicked through to read why exactly they had decided the article was “partly false.” When it comes down to it, the “independent fact checker” at USATODAY was quibbling about semantics.The VICE headline read, “Senate Votes to Allow FBI to Look At Your Web Browsing History Without A Warrant.” The article is referring to the Senate passing the USA Freedom Reauthorization Act, which reauthorizes several Patriot Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) surveillance authorities — while failing to pass an amendment offered by Senators Wyden (D-OR) and Daines (R-MT). The amendment would have required the FBI to get a warrant before snooping on Internet activity like web browsing and search history. The headline is provocative, but it is 100% true. And the article itself elaborates and explains the nuance. The fact checker is essentially claiming that the post is misinformation because the Senate didn’t “vote to allow” — they just “didn’t vote to not allow.”
Even if that were true, it would be a pretty tenuous justification for effectively censoring information on a platform used by billions of people. But it’s not true — the amendment was tacked on to the underlying bill, which reauthorizes FISA surveillance powers that are set to expire. So the Senators who voted to reauthorize Section 215, and voted against the amendment, absolutely did “vote to allow” warrantless government surveillance of Internet activity. The USATODAY piece is significantly more “false” than the VICE piece.
Not only did Facebook put a notification on my post linking to a blatantly slanted “fact check” article, they sent a notification to everyone who interacted with the post, linking to the same.
It appears that the USATODAY fact checker first discovered the VICE article via a viral post from the Facebook page “Being Libertarian.” The fact checker took issue with some of the specific language that that page used when sharing the article. But it appears that Facebook has applied the “partly false” flag not just to that page’s post, but to anyone who posts the same article.
The USATODAY piece relies heavily on “an email exchange” with Stewart Baker, the former top lawyer for the National Security Agency and a staunch defender of mass government surveillance programs.They did not attempt to contact my organization Fight for the Future, or experts from the ACLU, Free Press, Demand Progress, or any of the dozens of other reputable civil society organizations who have issued public statements that closely mirror the article’s framing. It also does not appear that they attempted to contact Senators Wyden or Daines, VICE, or the journalist who wrote the piece. In the end, they claim that the article is “partly false” based on a fairly generous read of how the FISA court works and their best guess at how a reader might interpret the headline and article. Without due process or a meaningful way to appeal the decision, this “fact checker” became judge, jury, and executioner, killing the spread of an organically viral post about government surveillance at a time when activists are working around the clock to inform the public about an upcoming vote that impacts their most basic rights.
The outcry over the Senate vote had an impact, and the House is now expected to vote on a similar amendment in a matter of days. Facebook and their fact checking partner’s arbitrary decision to flag the VICE article as “misinformation” could have a significant impact on that vote.
List of sources in the USATODAY “fact check” piece
This is not some epic conspiracy. I’m sure the fact checker at USATODAY did their best to research this complex topic and come to a determination they felt was fair. I doubt they’re secretly working for the surveillance state. Reporters will always bring their implicit biases to the ways they frame stories, which details they include and which ones they omit. In this case, clearly the VICE story was more sympathetic to civil liberties advocates working to limit government surveillance. The USATODAY piece is more sympathetic to the government and intelligence agencies. Neither of them are “false,” and neither of them should be effectively censored by Facebook or buried by its non-transparent algorithm in the name of stopping disinformation. Facebook should not be putting its thumb on the scale, to say that one article is “more true” than the other, when such determinations can be incredibly subjective and have profound implications for the democratic process.
The spread of online hate and outright lies on platforms like Facebook is a real problem. And social media amplification of corrosive and violent ideologies like white nationalism and transphobia are causing real world harm right now, disproportionately affecting Black and brown people and trans women of color. We must not downplay or ignore the ways that indiscriminately giving platform to these ideologies in the name of free speech can result in making it unsafe for marginalized people to freely express themselves.
There are no easy answers.
But I would argue that these are deep societal problems that can only be addressed through organizing and community building, and that they can’t be fixed with more censorship or by demanding that Big Tech companies become the arbiters of what is and isn’t true.
Around the world, we’ve seen governments scrambling to stem the flow of “misinformation,” often by enacting policies that do more harm than good. Ethiopia’s “Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation” has been decried by activists there as being abused to stifle free expression and freedom of the press. Similar legislation in Egypt has raised alarm bells for human rights groups. YouTube’s attempt to remove white nationalist videos from its platform resulted in automated censorship of anti-racist videos from groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In the United States, progressive groups and lawmakers rightly concerned about the rise of far right online activity, and attempts by state actors to manipulate elections, have increasingly turned to calls for Internet censorship, deplatforming, and more aggressive moderation by companies like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. These calls are well intentioned but ultimately misguided.
Empowering for-profit companies to become the referees of speech and determine what we are and are not allowed to debate solidifies the status quo, and largely benefits the powerful while silencing the oppressed. And in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, this situation could easily get worse very quickly. Facebook has already admitted that it’s relying more on the use of artificial intelligence, and prioritizing the “removal of harmful content” over all else. Implied is that they are prioritizing removing “harmful” content over ensuring that their moderation systems don’t also remove legitimate content in the process. A software “bug” led Facebook to remove factual posts about COVID-19 from actual healthcare professionals, for example.
There is no silver bullet solution that will stop the spread of online misinformation without resulting in collateral damage and censorship of legitimate content and marginalized voices.Instead of calling for more aggressive moderation, we should address the problem at its root: Big Tech companies’ underlying business model of data harvesting, micro-targeting, and artificial algorithmic amplification maximized for engagement above all else. These inherent flaws have become societal crises as a tiny handful of companies have become so large that their policies become de facto law for the entire Internet, something that can only be addressed by either breaking them up or building decentralized alternatives.
The problem with Facebook is not that it’s a place where people can say what they want or share articles that may or may not be true. It’s that Facebook is not a town square — it’s a machine designed to make money by shoving content down the throats of people that Facebook thinks will engage with it, and thus generate advertising revenue, no matter what the cost. Politicians, pundits, racists, and scam artists have always lied in public. Facebook allows them to directly target those lies to the people most likely to believe them.
Facebook isn’t broken. It’s working exactly as intended. The product that Facebook has built is fundamentally incompatible with basic human rights and democracy -– and begging Mark Zuckerberg to take down things we don’t like won’t change that. Worse, if we fail to address the underlying problems and get caught in an endless game of partisan whack-a-mole or working the refs, we will continue to see more and more collateral damage, like with my post about the Patriot Act.
Facebook’s surveillance capitalist business model inadvertently helped prop up the US government’s surveillance state ahead of a crucial vote.
It’s hard to imagine a better example of how urgent it is that we hold Big Tech companies accountable and fight for policies that limit their ability to manipulate and control public debate, rather than giving them more power in name of truth.
DOJ Closes Insider Trading Investigations Into Three Senators, Keeps Burr Probe GoingTyler DurdenTue, 05/26/2020 — 16:25
The Department of Justice is closing investigations into three US senators accused of trading stocks based on privileged coronavirus briefings right before the market tanked due to pandemic, however a fourth investigation into Sen. Richard Burr will continue, according to the Journal, citing people familiar with the matter.
Defense attorneys for Republican Senators James Inhofe (OK) and Kelly Loeffler (GA), as well as Democrat Dianne Feinstein (CA) were notified by prosecutors on Tuesday that they are closing investigations into their trades.
All of the lawmakers denied wrongdoing — with Inhofe and Loeffler saying their financial advisers made the trades which they had no knowledge of until after the fact.
The FBI began investigating the trades two months ago after lawmakers learned of the threat of coronavirus during closed-door briefings. In some cases, the trades saved lawmakers up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses as stocks tanked into mid-March.
Burr, meanwhile, has temporarily stepped down as Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The FBIseized the cell phone of the North Carolina Republican, who had more of a direct involvement in his trades.
More Than 100,000 Americans Have Succumbed To COVID-19: Live UpdatesTyler DurdenTue, 05/26/2020 — 16:10
US crosses 100k deaths (100,269)
US cases climb 1.1%, slowest since March
LA opens largest testing site at Dodgers stadium
Newsom says barbershops, hair salons can reopen
Canada reports another 103 deaths
Macron launches French auto bailout
Italy now reporting 230,555 cases
Florida reports 7 new deaths, 424 new cases
NJ reports 54 deaths, 703 new cases; says sports teams can soon resume practice, high schools can hold outdoor graduations
NYSE floor trading reopens
Global COVID-19 cases top 5.5 mil
Montenegro now ‘coronavirus-free’
Tory junior minister resigns over Cummings scandal
UK nears 50k deaths
UK plans to reopen car showrooms
US death toll: 99,800
Merck buys Austrian biotech company
Novovax announces start of human trial in Australia
CDC estimates infection mortality rate at less than 0.3%
Millions of Wuhan residents tested over past week
Germany to lift travel warnings on June 15
* * *
Update (1604ET):As Bloomberg confirms that US cases climbed just 1.1% over the past 24 hours with fewer than 20k cases reported for a second day, the slowest climb since March, as the outbreak across the US continues to slow (despite what the New York Times would have readers believe)…
…Johns Hopkins has confirmed that the US has passed a grim milestone: More than 100,000 confirmed deaths. The latest total: 100,269.
Since the beginning of the outbreak, while the number of new cases reported daily has fluctuated as outbreaks have waxed and waned…
…the rate of increase (measured in percentage points daily) has slowed dramatically.
* * *
Update (1530ET): Contrary to an earlier announcement by his Department of Health, Cali Gov Gavin Newsom announced during his daily briefing on Tuesday that he would allow some barbershops and hair salons in certain counties to reopen immediately.
Update (1450ET): As total deaths in the state approach 4k, while total cases approach 100k, California health officials announced on Monday that — subject to approval by county public health departments (meaning everywhere but the Bay Area) all retail stores can reopen for in-store shopping, so long as they observe previously issued social distancing guidelines for retailers in parts of the state that have already been allowed to reopen.
The existing guidance for retailers, which had applied just to those counties approved for wider reopening, now applies statewide. Retail can open for in-store shopping throughout California. Note: Retail does not include personal services such as hair salons, nail salons and barbershops, as the LAT reports.
As testing capacity ramps up across the country, the city of LA has opened its largest coronavirus testing site yet at Dodger Stadium. Up to 6,000 people can be tested daily, beginning Tuesday.
“This builds on our work we’ve been doing [over the] past weeks and months,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti during a news conference, shortly after being one of the first people tested at the new site. “We want testing to be easy, accessible and free for everybody here in Los Angeles.”
The drive-through facility will have big screens showing videos demonstrating how to administer a self-test to help prepare those waiting in line. The city is partnering with the Los Angeles Fire Department and the Community Organized Relief Effort, a nonprofit co-founded by Sean Penn, which will oversee operations and have 60 staffers helping.
About two months ago, Dodgers Chief Executive Stan Kasten said 40,000 people had been tested at a site already operating at the stadium. With this new undertaking, Kasten said, more people can be tested in one week than in the 10 previous weeks combined.
“This is how we come back,“he said.
* * *
Update (1220ET):Canada has just released its latest figures for Tuesday. It counted 103 new deaths across the country, and just 895 new cases. That brought its death toll to 6,556 and its case total to 85,998.
Italy just reported its numbers, including just 397 new cases and 78 deaths, the third straight session where deaths were below 100.
In total, Italy is now counting 230,555 cases and 32,955 deaths.
Before we go, an interesting pattern:
Coronavirus success stories:
– South Korea – Germany – Norway – Iceland – Denmark – Finland – New Zealand
In other news, French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday unveiled an €8 billion plan to revive France’s car industry, which has been crippled by the pandemic and the lockdowns. Per the FT, the plan includes increased subsidies for buyers of electric or hybrid cars and support for research into hydrogen power. It’s aimed at ensuring that the country’s automotive assemblers and suppliers survive the crisis so the government can help them “relocalize” manufacturing and “make France the leading country in Europe for the production of clean vehicles”, with an output target of 1 million a year by 2025.
* * *
Update (1140ET): The NYT has been harping non-stop on the fact that nearly a dozen states have reported an uptick in cases since they started rolling back restrictions, only rarely mentioning that a commensurate rise in testing capacity was often enough to explain these increases, and that public health officials in these states expected cases to rise in the near term as people started interacting in public again.
In Florida on Tuesday, the Florida Department of Health reported 424 new cases over the last 24 hours, bringing the states total confirmed cases to 52,170. Meanwhile, the number of reported deaths increased by just 7 to 2,259.
The total statewide number of patients hospitalized with the virus is just 9,482, though the Department of Health noted that this figure does not reflect the number of COVID-19 patients currently in hospitals, according to the News-Press of Southwest Florida.
New Jersey, which has reopened much more slowly than Florida, just reported a 1,500-patient drop in hospitalizations over the past 2 weeks.
LOOK: Our hospitals currently have 2,723 patients being treated for #COVID19 – a decrease of nearly 1,500 over the past two weeks.
As Gov Murphy said during his press briefing, the state has made huge progress and has unquestionably flattened the curve. Additionally, the governor said schools can reopen for outdoor graduation sendoffs, and also said professional sports teams in the state could soon begin practicing again.
* * *
Update (0820ET): A few weeks ago, Slovenia became the first European nation to announce zero new coronavirus cases. Now, nearby Montenegro has declared the country “coronavirus-free”.
An editor at Insider tweeted that the suspiciously low number of deaths reported yesterday might have been the result of “underreporting” related to holiday weekends in the US, UK and Brazil. A bounceback this week wouldn’t be a surprise.
Big picture: Just 1,179 deaths reported worldwide yesterday. That’s incredibly low, see the chart. It’s especially promising because the number of detected cases is still going up. pic.twitter.com/PLQOEW6QeU
US equity futures pointed to a sharp jump at the open on Tuesday, with the Nasdaq eying a return to the old highs, as traders celebrated the return of floor traders to the New York Stock Exchange as a symbol of the resilience of the capitalist system — or maybe it was the latest suspiciously preliminary vaccine news.
Two days after the NYT published the names of American coronavirus dead on the front page of its Memorial Day Weekend edition in solemn remembrance of the 100k milestone, the US still hasn’t actually crossed the threshold. Virginia became the latest state to report a one-day record jump in new cases over the weekend after the US saw a jump in cases and a slight uptick in hospitalizations last week.
Experts expected a jump in cases and hospitalizations as states adjusted to the first few weeks of ‘Phase 1′ reopening. Most hope that a ‘seasonal effect’ will help offset the increase in social interaction
An uptick in new cases was expected, due to the inevitable increase in interactions as restrictions are lifted. States have also expanded testing access as they’ve loosened restrictions.
With Brazil and Russia still accounting for ~1/5th of all new cases reported on Monday, the global total number of confirmed cases has broken above 5.5 million, though many experts believe the roughly 330k confirmed cases in Brazil represents just a quarter of the total infections in the country.
I haven’t commented publicly on the situation with Dominic Cummings as I have waited to hear the full details. I welcome the statement to clarify matters, but there remains aspects of the explanation which I have trouble with. As a result I have resigned as a government Minister. pic.twitter.com/6yXLyMzItJ
as we noted earlier, over the weekend, the CDC released its first official estimate of the overall infection fatality rate (IFR). The number? Just 0.26% — a full 3.2 percentage points below the WHO’s official estimate of 3.4%. The CDC also estimated the rate of “asymptomatic” infection (patients who showed few or no symptoms) at 35%.
I NYC alone, 0.3% of all city residents have died from the virus (more than 30k have died in the US alone). “According to some surveillance studies using antibody tests, roughly a quarter of NYC residents have been infected. This would suggest the mortality rate might be closer, or just above, 1%, but still well below the WHO number that unleashed a wave of panicked lockdowns across the world.
To be sure, roughly 50% of deaths across the US have occurred in nursing homes. This alarmingly high rate is due in part to certain Democratic governors instituting obviously dangerous policies allowing COVID-19-positive patients to be returned to the managed-care facilities where they lived. Some have suggested that better protecting the most vulnerable patients might greatly mitigate the mortality rate. But we digress…
As the WHO warns that the world remains mired in the ‘first wave’ of the outbreak, the AP reported Tuesday that states are scrambling to spend billions of dollars on PPE and medical supplies to replenish depleted stockpiles. But more than 2 months into the supply scramble, few states are sharing information about what they’re buying and how much they’re paying (remember, reports about states and cities being swindled have proliferated during the crisis). While many states have obscured their spending, Illinois has released a detailed database that can be accessed by the public.
With the US inching ever-closer to the 100k fatality mark, the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care said the country had surpassed 47,000 deaths on Tuesday, coming ever-closer to the 50k mark which Boris Johnson’s government had once said would be a ‘worst-case’ scenario for the outbreak. Meanwhile, Tory Junior minister Douglas Ross resigned on Tuesday, saying Dominic Cummings’ interpretation of the lockdown guidelines weren’t shared by the majority of Britons.
As the UK plods through an extremely gradual reopening, Johnson revealed on Tuesday that HMG plans to allow car showrooms and outdoor markets to reopen on June 1, while allowing all non-essential retail to open from June 15.
The ONS said 42,173 people had died in England and Wales with suspected COVID-19 as of May 15, bringing the UK total to 47,343 — which includes earlier data from Scotland, Northern Ireland, plus recent hospital deaths in England, Reuters reports. Chatter about Johnson being “replaced” — not unlike his predecessor, Theresa May — as Tories begin to see him as a liability has intensified.
On Tuesday, as images of packed Ozark beaches lingered in the minds of Americans, the WHO warned of the risks of an “immediate second peak” as Europe, the US and others ease up on lockdown conditions, while urging countries to step up surveillance, testing and tracking.
After a flurry of overhyped reports about various vaccine trials, Pharmaceutical giant Merck — which has “largely kept to the sidelines” of the vaccine race according to Reuters — has unveiled plans to buy privately-held Austrian vaccine maker Themis Bioscience. Merck also said it plans to collaborate with research nonprofit IAVI to develop two separate vaccines.
Merck also announced a partnership with privately-held Ridgeback Biotherapeutics to develop “an experimental oral antiviral drug” to help patients infected with the virus.
Maryland-based biotech firm Novovax announced early Tuesday that it had begun injecting its experimental coronavirus vaccine candidate into test subjects in Australia on Tuesday, CNBC reports.
The company hopes to release a vaccine by the end of the year if its early studies find success. Novavax will inject 131 volunteers in the first phase of the trial testing the safety of the vaccine and looking for signs of its effectiveness, the company’s research chief Dr. Gregory Glenn said. At this point, roughly a dozen experimental vaccines are in early stages of testing, or are poised to start in the near future; most of these are based in China, the US and Europe.
“We are in parallel making doses, making vaccine in anticipation that we’ll be able to show it’s working and be able to start deploying it by the end of this year,” Glenn told a virtual news conference in Melbourne from Novavax’ headquarters in Maryland.
After releasing its first testing update on Friday, Wuhan, the epicenter of China’s coronavirus outbreak, affirmed on Tuesday that it has tested nearly seven million people in 12 days,concluding a campaign to test the entire population after several infections prompted fears of a second wave. And as Beijing scrambles to test millions in Wuhan and China’s northeastern Jilin Province, Taiwan on Tuesday announced plans to lift its coronavirus-related restrictions on mass gatherings and the sale of masks next month as China’s ‘wayward province’ has nearly stamped out the virus.
As more European nations lift, or plan to lift, limitations on inter-EU travel, Germany said Tuesday it plans to lift travel warnings for 31 European countries per June 15, DPA reports, citing a government draft.
On seemingly every cable news channel, pundits are bemoaning the ‘politicization’ of the coronavirus pandemic. While their conclusion is typically to blame the president, we suspect there might be another reason why it sometimes seems like red states and blue states are experiencing different versions of the same reality.
Make jokes about our service and we will arrest you!
Now the T.S.A. say you’ll be arrested if you Tease us. But it’s all right for them to sexual assault you or steal you gold silver or even if you have too much funny money and come anywhere near the airports or borders.How dose this happen?
JULY152018: Court Gives Clearance for TSA to Molest and Falsely Arrest Air Travelers
Yesterday a Philadelphia Appeals Court ruled that TSA agents can not be sued for molesting or falsely arresting air travelers.
According to an article in Yahoo News the government has granted DHS employees immunity from lawsuits.
In the U.S., they’re collectively called everything from “attorney” to “lawyer” to “counselor.” Are these terms truly equivalent, or has the identity of one been mistaken for another? What exactly is a “Licensed BAR Attorney?”
This credential accompanies every legal paper produced by attorneys — along with a State Bar License number.