S.C. Judge Rules the Obvious: It’s Unconstitutional for Police to Seize and Keep People’s Property Without Proving They Committed Crimes

Thanks to chronic abuse and misuse by local police departments, the days may be numbered for South Carolina’s forfeiture system that allows cops to seize and keep cash and property of the people they arrest in order to fund their own departments.

Circuit Judge Steven H. John has ruled that the South Carolina’s civil asset forfeiture regulations violate the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights of the citizens.

Civil asset forfeiture has been in the crosshairs across the country for years now because it allows police and prosecutors to declare that any money or property owned by a suspect is “connected” to a crime, seize it, and then ultimately keep it for themselves. And because this is a civil process, police and prosecutors can do this without having to convict anybody. It’s the assets that are considered the defendants (in this case, the respondent is actually the $20,771 that Horry County wants to seize from a man charged with trafficking cocaine), prosecutors typically have a lower threshold to make their case than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and people who are pulled into these forfeiture cases don’t have access to public defenders and have to fund their own lawyers.

The end result: Police trying to keep whatever they can grab off anybody they arrest, claiming it’s all proceeds or property connected to criminal activities, and using it to line their own pockets. This incentivizes police to look for people who have assets that can be seized. Local newspapers in South Carolina teamed up to investigate the extent of abuses and discovered police agencies across the state had seized more than $17 million in assets across three years. In one-fifth of the cases, nobody was charged or even arrested for a crime.

Judge John notes all of these problems in a decisive ruling that smacks down the practice of civil asset forfeiture. In his 15-page opinion, he writes that South Carolina’s forfeiture practice violate both the U.S. Constitution and the state’s because the statutes “(1) place the burden on the property owner to prove their innocence, (2) unconstitutionally institutionally incentivizes forfeiture officials to prosecute forfeiture actions, and (3) do not mandate judicial review or judicial authorization prior to or subsequent to the seizure.” He also notes that the statutes violate citizens’ Eighth Amendment protections against excessive fines.

South Carolina’s asset forfeiture system is particularly terrible because 75 percent of the seized assets go directly to the law enforcement agency that seized the property, while 20 percent goes to the state solicitor’s offices (the prosecutors). The money seized goes directly to the people trying to seize it. The money seized is supposed to be used solely for “drug enforcement activities,” but John observes that this restriction has very little oversight; law enforcement ends up approving spending above and beyond what their agencies have budgeted, with the understanding that they’ll make up the difference from seizures. That doesn’t even get into the issue that tying a police department’s budget to proceeds from fighting the drug war warps their priorities to such a degree that they’re not focusing on crimes that have actual victims.

Later in the ruling, John painstakingly goes through a checklist to show exactly how the state’s forfeiture system leads to bad incentives and a cycle of revenue-seeking:

“We have to find more money to seize or our budget will run out and we’ll lose our jobs,” is not a model for a policing system that is focused on fighting actual crime.

But the fight to reform South Carolina’s system is far from over. The decision doesn’t extend statewide, and Horry County’s Solicitor’s Office has filed a motion asking John to reconsider his ruling, noting that, among other things, the defendant in this case pleaded guilty to the crimes and the seized cash is worth much less than the potential maximum fine of $50,000 he could have faced.

Writing at Forbes, Nick Sibilla notes that in the wake of local reporting about the expansive abuse of asset forfeiture in South Carolina, lawmakers attempted to pass a bill which would have eliminated civil forfeiture entirely. It stalled due to some technical issues with the wording, but Sibilla expects a revised version to return in the next legislative session. If it passes, South Carolina would join New Mexico, Nebraska, and North Carolina in completely eliminating civil asset forfeiture. A conviction would be required in order for police and prosecutors to try to keep somebody’s cash and property for themselves.

Read John’s ruling here.

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S.C. Judge Rules the Obvious: It’s Unconstitutional for Police to Seize and Keep People’s Property Without Proving They Committed Crimes

Thanks to chronic abuse and misuse by local police departments, the days may be numbered for South Carolina’s forfeiture system that allows cops to seize and keep cash and property of the people they arrest in order to fund their own departments.

Circuit Judge Steven H. John has ruled that the South Carolina’s civil asset forfeiture regulations violate the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights of the citizens.

Civil asset forfeiture has been in the crosshairs across the country for years now because it allows police and prosecutors to declare that any money or property owned by a suspect is “connected” to a crime, seize it, and then ultimately keep it for themselves. And because this is a civil process, police and prosecutors can do this without having to convict anybody. It’s the assets that are considered the defendants (in this case, the respondent is actually the $20,771 that Horry County wants to seize from a man charged with trafficking cocaine), prosecutors typically have a lower threshold to make their case than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and people who are pulled into these forfeiture cases don’t have access to public defenders and have to fund their own lawyers.

The end result: Police trying to keep whatever they can grab off anybody they arrest, claiming it’s all proceeds or property connected to criminal activities, and using it to line their own pockets. This incentivizes police to look for people who have assets that can be seized. Local newspapers in South Carolina teamed up to investigate the extent of abuses and discovered police agencies across the state had seized more than $17 million in assets across three years. In one-fifth of the cases, nobody was charged or even arrested for a crime.

Judge John notes all of these problems in a decisive ruling that smacks down the practice of civil asset forfeiture. In his 15-page opinion, he writes that South Carolina’s forfeiture practice violate both the U.S. Constitution and the state’s because the statutes “(1) place the burden on the property owner to prove their innocence, (2) unconstitutionally institutionally incentivizes forfeiture officials to prosecute forfeiture actions, and (3) do not mandate judicial review or judicial authorization prior to or subsequent to the seizure.” He also notes that the statutes violate citizens’ Eighth Amendment protections against excessive fines.

South Carolina’s asset forfeiture system is particularly terrible because 75 percent of the seized assets go directly to the law enforcement agency that seized the property, while 20 percent goes to the state solicitor’s offices (the prosecutors). The money seized goes directly to the people trying to seize it. The money seized is supposed to be used solely for “drug enforcement activities,” but John observes that this restriction has very little oversight; law enforcement ends up approving spending above and beyond what their agencies have budgeted, with the understanding that they’ll make up the difference from seizures. That doesn’t even get into the issue that tying a police department’s budget to proceeds from fighting the drug war warps their priorities to such a degree that they’re not focusing on crimes that have actual victims.

Later in the ruling, John painstakingly goes through a checklist to show exactly how the state’s forfeiture system leads to bad incentives and a cycle of revenue-seeking:

“We have to find more money to seize or our budget will run out and we’ll lose our jobs,” is not a model for a policing system that is focused on fighting actual crime.

But the fight to reform South Carolina’s system is far from over. The decision doesn’t extend statewide, and Horry County’s Solicitor’s Office has filed a motion asking John to reconsider his ruling, noting that, among other things, the defendant in this case pleaded guilty to the crimes and the seized cash is worth much less than the potential maximum fine of $50,000 he could have faced.

Writing at Forbes, Nick Sibilla notes that in the wake of local reporting about the expansive abuse of asset forfeiture in South Carolina, lawmakers attempted to pass a bill which would have eliminated civil forfeiture entirely. It stalled due to some technical issues with the wording, but Sibilla expects a revised version to return in the next legislative session. If it passes, South Carolina would join New Mexico, Nebraska, and North Carolina in completely eliminating civil asset forfeiture. A conviction would be required in order for police and prosecutors to try to keep somebody’s cash and property for themselves.

Read John’s ruling here.

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Why ‘Free College’ Is a Terrible Idea

Michael Gamez, 22, has wanted to work on cars since he was a kid, just like his father and grandfather. He fixed up and sold his first used car when he was 14. “It felt really good to build something up and sell it for a profit,” says Gamez.

But his teachers conditioned him to equate a college degree with success. So he enrolled at the University of California, Irvine, with a plan to major in mechanical engineering. During his sophomore year, Gamez dropped out because he realized that he was on the wrong path.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.)and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) have promised that, if elected, they’ll make public college tuition-free and wipe clear federal student loan debt, which in the U.S. tops $1.5 trillion. Their claim is that making college universal will lead to higher productivity and more economic opportunity for people like Gamez.

“If you make college free, then there’s going to be so many [degrees] floating around that if you want to get a better job, then you’re going to need to go and get some supplemental degree,” says Bryan Caplan, an economist at George Mason University and author of The Case Against Education. He’s skeptical that professors like him have much to offer most students.

“We’re spending too much time and money on education because most of what you learn in school you will never use after the final exam,” says Caplan. “If you just calmly compare what we’re studying to what we really do, the connection is shockingly weak.”

Caplan says that most people attend college as a way to signal to prospective employers that they’re reasonably intelligent, conscientious, and conformist.

“The signaling story is mostly that our society says that you’re supposed to graduate, and if you’re supposed to graduate, the failure to graduate signals non-conformity,” says Caplan. “People that are willing to just bite their tongues and suffer through it are the ones who are also going to be good at doing that once they get a job.”

Caplan’s case rests partly on the so-called sheepskin effect, named for the material on which diplomas were once printed.

Studies of the earnings of college graduates reveal that the average salary increase for completing the last year of college is on average more than double that of completing the first three, implying that it’s the fortitude to obtain the degree—not the knowledge gained—that explains the boost in compensation.

“The usual view, called the human capital view, says that basically all of what’s going on in schools, is that they are pouring useful skills into you,” says Caplan. “What I’m saying is the main payoff you’re getting from school is that you’re getting certified, you’re getting stamped. You are, in other words, getting what you need to convince employers that you are a good bet.”

Instead of college, Leah Wilczewski, 21, enrolled in Praxis, a one-year job skills program focusing on communication, marketing, and other jobs. It cost $12,000 but included a 6-month paid apprenticeship worth $16,000, meaning she’ll finish the program $4,000 in the black.

Wilczewski is in the middle of her apprenticeship at Impossible Foods, the Bay Area company that sells a meatless hamburger.

“I feel as if being in Praxis and being able to nail a job that typically requires four years of school, if not more…it’s like, okay, with that knowledge, what else can I do?” says Wilczewski.

After Michael Gamez dropped out of UC Irvine, he enrolled in an auto mechanic trade school while also working at Pep Boys. Then he applied for and received a $12,400 scholarship from Mike Rowe Works, which helps young people looking to enter the skilled trades

From there, he entered a three-month training program with BMW and a day after finishing began his job as a high-level technician at BMW of Beverly Hills.

“Now that I work with cars…I get excited to go to work,” says Gamez. “I feel like a lot of people, they get surprised when I tell them the amount of money that a mechanic or a technician can make at a dealership.”

Even though it’s possible to acquire the necessary skills to make a good living without attending college, enrollment at 4-year universities has stayed steady for the past 10 years, and an Economics of Education Review study by Nicholas Turner found that every dollar of federal aid spending crowds out about 83 cents of institutional aid. Such trends leave Caplan skeptical that enrollment will fall anytime soon despite the increasing availability of online alternatives.

“If you’ve got that kind of guaranteed customer base where the taxpayers have no choice in whether or not the money’s going to be spent and the government hands it over to you, then you’re going to be fine,” says Caplan.

As for Wilczewski, she has two more months left in her apprenticeship and is hopeful that Impossible Foods will keep her on in the sales department. Gamez hopes that working for BMW is a first step towards eventually owning his own shop.

Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by John Osterhoudt, Alexis Garcia, Jim Epstein, Todd Krainin, and Weissmueller.

Photo credits: Anthony Behar/Sipa USA/Newscom, Bastiaan Slabbers/ZUMA Press/Newscom, Jack Kurtz/ZUMA Press/Newscom.

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Why ‘Free College’ Is a Terrible Idea

Michael Gamez, 22, has wanted to work on cars since he was a kid, just like his father and grandfather. He fixed up and sold his first used car when he was 14. “It felt really good to build something up and sell it for a profit,” says Gamez.

But his teachers conditioned him to equate a college degree with success. So he enrolled at the University of California, Irvine, with a plan to major in mechanical engineering. During his sophomore year, Gamez dropped out because he realized that he was on the wrong path.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.)and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) have promised that, if elected, they’ll make public college tuition-free and wipe clear federal student loan debt, which in the U.S. tops $1.5 trillion. Their claim is that making college universal will lead to higher productivity and more economic opportunity for people like Gamez.

“If you make college free, then there’s going to be so many [degrees] floating around that if you want to get a better job, then you’re going to need to go and get some supplemental degree,” says Bryan Caplan, an economist at George Mason University and author of The Case Against Education. He’s skeptical that professors like him have much to offer most students.

“We’re spending too much time and money on education because most of what you learn in school you will never use after the final exam,” says Caplan. “If you just calmly compare what we’re studying to what we really do, the connection is shockingly weak.”

Caplan says that most people attend college as a way to signal to prospective employers that they’re reasonably intelligent, conscientious, and conformist.

“The signaling story is mostly that our society says that you’re supposed to graduate, and if you’re supposed to graduate, the failure to graduate signals non-conformity,” says Caplan. “People that are willing to just bite their tongues and suffer through it are the ones who are also going to be good at doing that once they get a job.”

Caplan’s case rests partly on the so-called sheepskin effect, named for the material on which diplomas were once printed.

Studies of the earnings of college graduates reveal that the average salary increase for completing the last year of college is on average more than double that of completing the first three, implying that it’s the fortitude to obtain the degree—not the knowledge gained—that explains the boost in compensation.

“The usual view, called the human capital view, says that basically all of what’s going on in schools, is that they are pouring useful skills into you,” says Caplan. “What I’m saying is the main payoff you’re getting from school is that you’re getting certified, you’re getting stamped. You are, in other words, getting what you need to convince employers that you are a good bet.”

Instead of college, Leah Wilczewski, 21, enrolled in Praxis, a one-year job skills program focusing on communication, marketing, and other jobs. It cost $12,000 but included a 6-month paid apprenticeship worth $16,000, meaning she’ll finish the program $4,000 in the black.

Wilczewski is in the middle of her apprenticeship at Impossible Foods, the Bay Area company that sells a meatless hamburger.

“I feel as if being in Praxis and being able to nail a job that typically requires four years of school, if not more…it’s like, okay, with that knowledge, what else can I do?” says Wilczewski.

After Michael Gamez dropped out of UC Irvine, he enrolled in an auto mechanic trade school while also working at Pep Boys. Then he applied for and received a $12,400 scholarship from Mike Rowe Works, which helps young people looking to enter the skilled trades

From there, he entered a three-month training program with BMW and a day after finishing began his job as a high-level technician at BMW of Beverly Hills.

“Now that I work with cars…I get excited to go to work,” says Gamez. “I feel like a lot of people, they get surprised when I tell them the amount of money that a mechanic or a technician can make at a dealership.”

Even though it’s possible to acquire the necessary skills to make a good living without attending college, enrollment at 4-year universities has stayed steady for the past 10 years, and an Economics of Education Review study by Nicholas Turner found that every dollar of federal aid spending crowds out about 83 cents of institutional aid. Such trends leave Caplan skeptical that enrollment will fall anytime soon despite the increasing availability of online alternatives.

“If you’ve got that kind of guaranteed customer base where the taxpayers have no choice in whether or not the money’s going to be spent and the government hands it over to you, then you’re going to be fine,” says Caplan.

As for Wilczewski, she has two more months left in her apprenticeship and is hopeful that Impossible Foods will keep her on in the sales department. Gamez hopes that working for BMW is a first step towards eventually owning his own shop.

Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by John Osterhoudt, Alexis Garcia, Jim Epstein, Todd Krainin, and Weissmueller.

Photo credits: Anthony Behar/Sipa USA/Newscom, Bastiaan Slabbers/ZUMA Press/Newscom, Jack Kurtz/ZUMA Press/Newscom.

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The Connecticut Hate-Crimes Law Used To Charge Two Idiot College Students Would Ban Family Guy Too

Two students at the University of Connecticut (UConn) have been “charged with ridicule on account of creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race. The misdemeanor charge is punishable by a maximum of 30 days in jail, a fine of up to $50 or both, according to state law.”

Video circulated by the UConn chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) shows the students, both 21, repeatedly using the n-word while walking through a parking lot. To put it bluntly, the students are fucking idiots. But the way the case is being handled—and the state law under which they are being charged—should deeply upset everyone who cares about free speech.

According to The Washington Post, Jarred Karal and Ryan Mucaj are also facing possible expulsion from UConn for violating the school’s code of conduct. That’s exactly right: The university should be deciding whether such mindless, ugly action warrants suspension of expulsion. Even though UConn is a state school (and thus bound by the First Amendment), it should be allowed to set reasonable expectations for student and faculty behavior.

But Connecticut’s hate crimes law penalizes all sorts of speech that should absolutely be protected. According to the law,

Any person who, by his advertisement, ridicules or holds up to contempt any person or class of persons, on account of the creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race of such person or class of persons, shall be guilty of a class D misdemeanor.

It’s not immediately clear whether Karal and Mucaj will be found guilty because they were not directly addressing particular individuals, an important aspect of the state law. In true dumbass fashion, in the video they seem to be wandering through a parking lot (with a third student who was not charged) shouting the slur repeatedly to the open air.

But the Connecticut law, “a rarely-enforced relic dating to 1917,” according to the folks at The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), effectively bans a huge amount of speech. When reading about this law, I thought immediately of the TV show Family Guy, which is based in Connecticut’s neighboring state of Rhode Island, and rarely misses an opportunity to mock and deride all classes of “persons, on account of the creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race.” It’s a rare episode of this New England-based show that doesn’t break the intentions of the Nutmeg State’s stupid law. Few TV shows have their own Wikipedia pages devoted to their takes on various groups that would be protected under the Connecticut law. Family Guy routinely mocks Islam, Catholicism, Christianity, transgender people, heterosexuals, old people—you name it.

Based on what I’ve read, including comments from UConn’s president, I think these students should face some sort of serious disciplinary action from the school, possibly even expulsion.

But that Connecticut law should be deep-sixed once and for all, especially given the state’s colonial history as a site of religious dissent and toleration. Speech is under attack everywhere these days, in ways that it hasn’t been since the 1950s. Just yesterday, Reason reported on a proposed law in Massachusetts that would criminalize the use of the word bitch. Leading national politicians routinely trot out new ways to regulate speech (looking at you, Sens. Josh Hawley and Elizabeth Warren). Conservatives are calling for porn prosecutions and liberals get bent out of shape over perceived Russian interference in political discourse on Facebook and other social-media platforms. Incidents such as the one at UConn are disturbing reminders of casual racism. They shouldn’t also be reminders of the precariousness of free speech.

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The Connecticut Hate-Crimes Law Used To Charge Two Idiot College Students Would Ban Family Guy Too

Two students at the University of Connecticut (UConn) have been “charged with ridicule on account of creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race. The misdemeanor charge is punishable by a maximum of 30 days in jail, a fine of up to $50 or both, according to state law.”

Video circulated by the UConn chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) shows the students, both 21, repeatedly using the n-word while walking through a parking lot. To put it bluntly, the students are fucking idiots. But the way the case is being handled—and the state law under which they are being charged—should deeply upset everyone who cares about free speech.

According to The Washington Post, Jarred Karal and Ryan Mucaj are also facing possible expulsion from UConn for violating the school’s code of conduct. That’s exactly right: The university should be deciding whether such mindless, ugly action warrants suspension of expulsion. Even though UConn is a state school (and thus bound by the First Amendment), it should be allowed to set reasonable expectations for student and faculty behavior.

But Connecticut’s hate crimes law penalizes all sorts of speech that should absolutely be protected. According to the law,

Any person who, by his advertisement, ridicules or holds up to contempt any person or class of persons, on account of the creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race of such person or class of persons, shall be guilty of a class D misdemeanor.

It’s not immediately clear whether Karal and Mucaj will be found guilty because they were not directly addressing particular individuals, an important aspect of the state law. In true dumbass fashion, in the video they seem to be wandering through a parking lot (with a third student who was not charged) shouting the slur repeatedly to the open air.

But the Connecticut law, “a rarely-enforced relic dating to 1917,” according to the folks at The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), effectively bans a huge amount of speech. When reading about this law, I thought immediately of the TV show Family Guy, which is based in Connecticut’s neighboring state of Rhode Island, and rarely misses an opportunity to mock and deride all classes of “persons, on account of the creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race.” It’s a rare episode of this New England-based show that doesn’t break the intentions of the Nutmeg State’s stupid law. Few TV shows have their own Wikipedia pages devoted to their takes on various groups that would be protected under the Connecticut law. Family Guy routinely mocks Islam, Catholicism, Christianity, transgender people, heterosexuals, old people—you name it.

Based on what I’ve read, including comments from UConn’s president, I think these students should face some sort of serious disciplinary action from the school, possibly even expulsion.

But that Connecticut law should be deep-sixed once and for all, especially given the state’s colonial history as a site of religious dissent and toleration. Speech is under attack everywhere these days, in ways that it hasn’t been since the 1950s. Just yesterday, Reason reported on a proposed law in Massachusetts that would criminalize the use of the word bitch. Leading national politicians routinely trot out new ways to regulate speech (looking at you, Sens. Josh Hawley and Elizabeth Warren). Conservatives are calling for porn prosecutions and liberals get bent out of shape over perceived Russian interference in political discourse on Facebook and other social-media platforms. Incidents such as the one at UConn are disturbing reminders of casual racism. They shouldn’t also be reminders of the precariousness of free speech.

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If Facebook Can Get Rid of Dick Pics, It Can Stop All Drug Deals Too, Claim Activists

“When was the last time anybody here saw a dick pic on Facebook?” asked Gretchen Peters, the chair of the Alliance to Counter Crime Online (ACCO), addressing representatives from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce last week. “If they can keep genitalia off of these platforms, they can keep drugs off of these platforms.”

Peters was part of a panel sent to testify on Section 230, the piece of legislation that protects tech companies from facing liability for content posted by third-party users online. There has been a great deal of misinformation peddled about the law—namely that platforms are prohibited from moderating content they deem harmful. In reality, it encourages tech companies to remove posts “in good faith,” so as to prevent the internet from devolving into a cesspool of negativity. Peters says they should be doing more.

But her testimony was laced with inaccuracies that reflect a fundamental misunderstanding about her goal, which is to punish online platforms and remove their legal protections should they fail to aggressively police illicit content.

There is an “incredible range and scale of illicit activity happening online,” she mused. “It is far worse than I ever imagined.”

Issuing an apocalyptic warning to the audience of members of Congress, Peters continued on to describe how social media giants are actively helping facilitate the “public health crisis” known as the opioid epidemic, which is claiming 60,000 American lives each year. A stream of studies “by ACCO members and others” affirmatively show the “widespread use of Google, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, [and] YouTube to market and sell fentanyl, oxycodone, and other highly addictive, often deadly substances to U.S. consumers,” said Peters. “Every major internet platform has a drug problem.”

Yet which studies she is referencing remains unclear, as does her definition of “widespread.” The Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP), which aims to curb illegal pharmaceutical sales online, estimates that less than 5 percent of all opioid purchases come from internet transactions. Interestingly, that same study surmises that the majority of such sales occur on the “dark web,” as opposed to the legally operated platforms that have drawn Peters’ ire.

“The voluntary efforts of internet and payment platforms such as Google, PayPal, and Bing, among other companies, to curb the online promotion of illicit products have disrupted these illicit businesses’ operations,” the report concludes, “specifically by removing the options of paid advertising and the most common payment methods.”

CSIP also specifically mentions Reddit, whose CEO, Steve Huffman, testified that the website would cease to exist in its current form should Section 230 protections be removed. “Drug vendors also take advantage of anonymous chat forums to find customers, but the most popular of these, reddit.com, has recently seen more scrutiny and enforcement by platform operators,” the report says.

Yet a vastly different impression was left with many members of Congress, several of whom said they found Peters’ testimony “jarring” and “horrifying.”

But never before has an industry been granted “total immunity no matter what their harm brings to consumers,” Peters said, which sounds deeply alarming on its face. The implication is that platforms can facilitate heinous crimes in broad daylight without fear of any repercussions.

The problem is that Peters’ claim is blatantly untrue.

Section 230 already contains a carve-out for federal criminal law, meaning that online platforms that are implicated in illegal behavior can be charged accordingly. Consider the Silk Road, a now-defunct dark website used to traffic illicit drugs. Its owner, Ross Ulbricht, is serving a double-life sentence plus 40 years. Not even Section 230 could save him from the harsh consequences of the drug war.

So what does Peters propose that Congress do? One can’t be sure—she offered no practical insight, other than a veiled remark about the need for “revised language” in the legislation.

What course of action she would have these companies take isn’t completely clear, either, although she provided some clues. Her dick pic example—which she gave in response to a question about concrete solutions—suggested that these websites have concocted the perfect crime-fighting algorithm. If they’ve figured out how to eliminate full-frontal nudity, so too should they be able to pinpoint and eradicate the drug market, she implies.

But this is preposterous when considering the intricate nature of black markets. It’s easy to find and flag a post that reads, “CHEAP FENTANYL FOR SALE!”—just as a picture of a penis might stand out in one’s newsfeed. Platforms are already working to erase that kind of content with relative success. Harder still is it to uncover covert illegal postings, many of which use secret Facebook groups and code words to fly under the radar. No advanced algorithm can perfectly pinpoint those. A 100 percent removal rate would likely require the manual review of every single item posted to those platforms—both an impossible undertaking, and something Section 230 was supposed to protect companies from having to do.

Even still, Peters would like to see platforms punished for failing to adequately stand up to organized crime. “If it’s illegal in real life, it ought to be illegal to host it online,” she repeated, meaning that tech firms would be criminally liable for failing to find each and every unlawful post.

And in reality, that effort would have the opposite of its intended effect: Worried about pending lawsuits or criminal charges, companies would be apt to remove any and all troublesome content, making it more difficult for law enforcement to track down those who break the rules.

Ironically, Peters seemed to recognize that shortfall when testifying. When tech companies remove illicit activity, she said that it destroys “critical evidence of a crime,” and “[helps] criminals to cover their tracks.” She should not expect that to get any better if her vague policy solution prevails.

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If Facebook Can Get Rid of Dick Pics, It Can Stop All Drug Deals Too, Claim Activists

“When was the last time anybody here saw a dick pic on Facebook?” asked Gretchen Peters, the chair of the Alliance to Counter Crime Online (ACCO), addressing representatives from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce last week. “If they can keep genitalia off of these platforms, they can keep drugs off of these platforms.”

Peters was part of a panel sent to testify on Section 230, the piece of legislation that protects tech companies from facing liability for content posted by third-party users online. There has been a great deal of misinformation peddled about the law—namely that platforms are prohibited from moderating content they deem harmful. In reality, it encourages tech companies to remove posts “in good faith,” so as to prevent the internet from devolving into a cesspool of negativity. Peters says they should be doing more.

But her testimony was laced with inaccuracies that reflect a fundamental misunderstanding about her goal, which is to punish online platforms and remove their legal protections should they fail to aggressively police illicit content.

There is an “incredible range and scale of illicit activity happening online,” she mused. “It is far worse than I ever imagined.”

Issuing an apocalyptic warning to the audience of members of Congress, Peters continued on to describe how social media giants are actively helping facilitate the “public health crisis” known as the opioid epidemic, which is claiming 60,000 American lives each year. A stream of studies “by ACCO members and others” affirmatively show the “widespread use of Google, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, [and] YouTube to market and sell fentanyl, oxycodone, and other highly addictive, often deadly substances to U.S. consumers,” said Peters. “Every major internet platform has a drug problem.”

Yet which studies she is referencing remains unclear, as does her definition of “widespread.” The Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP), which aims to curb illegal pharmaceutical sales online, estimates that less than 5 percent of all opioid purchases come from internet transactions. Interestingly, that same study surmises that the majority of such sales occur on the “dark web,” as opposed to the legally operated platforms that have drawn Peters’ ire.

“The voluntary efforts of internet and payment platforms such as Google, PayPal, and Bing, among other companies, to curb the online promotion of illicit products have disrupted these illicit businesses’ operations,” the report concludes, “specifically by removing the options of paid advertising and the most common payment methods.”

CSIP also specifically mentions Reddit, whose CEO, Steve Huffman, testified that the website would cease to exist in its current form should Section 230 protections be removed. “Drug vendors also take advantage of anonymous chat forums to find customers, but the most popular of these, reddit.com, has recently seen more scrutiny and enforcement by platform operators,” the report says.

Yet a vastly different impression was left with many members of Congress, several of whom said they found Peters’ testimony “jarring” and “horrifying.”

But never before has an industry been granted “total immunity no matter what their harm brings to consumers,” Peters said, which sounds deeply alarming on its face. The implication is that platforms can facilitate heinous crimes in broad daylight without fear of any repercussions.

The problem is that Peters’ claim is blatantly untrue.

Section 230 already contains a carve-out for federal criminal law, meaning that online platforms that are implicated in illegal behavior can be charged accordingly. Consider the Silk Road, a now-defunct dark website used to traffic illicit drugs. Its owner, Ross Ulbricht, is serving a double-life sentence plus 40 years. Not even Section 230 could save him from the harsh consequences of the drug war.

So what does Peters propose that Congress do? One can’t be sure—she offered no practical insight, other than a veiled remark about the need for “revised language” in the legislation.

What course of action she would have these companies take isn’t completely clear, either, although she provided some clues. Her dick pic example—which she gave in response to a question about concrete solutions—suggested that these websites have concocted the perfect crime-fighting algorithm. If they’ve figured out how to eliminate full-frontal nudity, so too should they be able to pinpoint and eradicate the drug market, she implies.

But this is preposterous when considering the intricate nature of black markets. It’s easy to find and flag a post that reads, “CHEAP FENTANYL FOR SALE!”—just as a picture of a penis might stand out in one’s newsfeed. Platforms are already working to erase that kind of content with relative success. Harder still is it to uncover covert illegal postings, many of which use secret Facebook groups and code words to fly under the radar. No advanced algorithm can perfectly pinpoint those. A 100 percent removal rate would likely require the manual review of every single item posted to those platforms—both an impossible undertaking, and something Section 230 was supposed to protect companies from having to do.

Even still, Peters would like to see platforms punished for failing to adequately stand up to organized crime. “If it’s illegal in real life, it ought to be illegal to host it online,” she repeated, meaning that tech firms would be criminally liable for failing to find each and every unlawful post.

And in reality, that effort would have the opposite of its intended effect: Worried about pending lawsuits or criminal charges, companies would be apt to remove any and all troublesome content, making it more difficult for law enforcement to track down those who break the rules.

Ironically, Peters seemed to recognize that shortfall when testifying. When tech companies remove illicit activity, she said that it destroys “critical evidence of a crime,” and “[helps] criminals to cover their tracks.” She should not expect that to get any better if her vague policy solution prevails.

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Why Don’t You Write More About Right-Wing Antisemitism?

As regular VC readers know, I write with some regularity about antisemitism. As such readers also know, I tend to focus more on left-wing antisemitism, and sometimes write about exaggerations of antisemitism on the right. My interlocutors sometimes accuse me of doing this for ideological reasons, that I “like” the right and “dislike” the left. Well, I actually don’t like right-wing antisemites. At all. To say the least.

But there is another reason why my writings skew the way they do, which is my sense that those concerned most with antisemitism, in particular the Jewish community in both its organizational and individual manifestations, tend to focus on (and indeed sometimes exaggerate the scope of) right-wing antisemitism, and ignore, neglect, or downplay left-wing antisemitism.

A new survey of American Jews confirms my instincts (I excluded the “don’t knows” below). For the record, my response to each of these would be “moderately serious threat”:

In your view, how much of an antisemitic threat does the extreme political right represent in the United States today?

Very serious threat 49%

Moderately serious threat 29%

Slight threat 11%

No threat at all 9%

In your view, how much of an antisemitic threat does the extreme political left represent in the United States today?

Very serious threat 15%

Moderately serious threat 21%

Slight threat 28%

No threat at all 34%

In your view, how much of an antisemitic threat does extremism in the name of Islam represent in the United States today?

Very serious threat 27%

Moderately serious threat 27%

Slight threat 31%

No threat at all 14%

A few things stand out here. First, about half of American Jews think extreme right-wing antisemitism is a very serious threat, and another 30% thinks it’s a moderately serious threat. So it’s not like there is a lack of concern about right-wing antisemitism that somehow needs correcting with blogging and other educational activities.

On the other hand, the statistics for antisemitism on the extreme left and from radical Islamists are remarkable. For example, Great Britain is the second-closest country culturally to the U.S., after Canada. One of the two major parties has been taken over by an antisemite, and his ideological compatriots are a growing force in the Democratic Party. There have been a series of overtly (and well-publicized) antisemitic acts on college campuses arising from the extreme left. Some Democratic politicians openly admire antisemites ranging from the overt (Farrkhan) to the somewhat more subtle (Omar). But 34% of American Jews see no threat at all.

With regard to radical Islam, there have been several murders of Jews and attacks on Jewish institutions emanating from radical Islamists over the last two decades, and Al Qaeda chose to attack New York City on 9/11 in part from antisemitic motive. Antisemitic violence in Europe, including well-publicized murders, comes primarily from Islamists. But 45% of American Jews see no threat at all or only a slight threat from extremist Islamists.

Note also this question:

Over the past five years, do you think antisemitism in the United States has…

Increased a lot 43%

Increased somewhat 41%

Stayed the same 12%

Decreased a little 3%

Decreased a lot 1%

There is, in fact, no good empirical evidence that antisemitism has increased *at all,* much less a lot, though extremist antisemites have become more vocal, organized, and more able to get a platform now that mainstream gatekeepers in the media no longer serve that function. Have they become more violent? Probably somewhat, but that’s a different question than whether antisemitism overall has increased.

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Why Don’t You Write More About Right-Wing Antisemitism?

As regular VC readers know, I write with some regularity about antisemitism. As such readers also know, I tend to focus more on left-wing antisemitism, and sometimes write about exaggerations of antisemitism on the right. My interlocutors sometimes accuse me of doing this for ideological reasons, that I “like” the right and “dislike” the left. Well, I actually don’t like right-wing antisemites. At all. To say the least.

But there is another reason why my writings skew the way they do, which is my sense that those concerned most with antisemitism, in particular the Jewish community in both its organizational and individual manifestations, tend to focus on (and indeed sometimes exaggerate the scope of) right-wing antisemitism, and ignore, neglect, or downplay left-wing antisemitism.

A new survey of American Jews confirms my instincts (I excluded the “don’t knows” below). For the record, my response to each of these would be “moderately serious threat”:

In your view, how much of an antisemitic threat does the extreme political right represent in the United States today?

Very serious threat 49%

Moderately serious threat 29%

Slight threat 11%

No threat at all 9%

In your view, how much of an antisemitic threat does the extreme political left represent in the United States today?

Very serious threat 15%

Moderately serious threat 21%

Slight threat 28%

No threat at all 34%

In your view, how much of an antisemitic threat does extremism in the name of Islam represent in the United States today?

Very serious threat 27%

Moderately serious threat 27%

Slight threat 31%

No threat at all 14%

A few things stand out here. First, about half of American Jews think extreme right-wing antisemitism is a very serious threat, and another 30% thinks it’s a moderately serious threat. So it’s not like there is a lack of concern about right-wing antisemitism that somehow needs correcting with blogging and other educational activities.

On the other hand, the statistics for antisemitism on the extreme left and from radical Islamists are remarkable. For example, Great Britain is the second-closest country culturally to the U.S., after Canada. One of the two major parties has been taken over by an antisemite, and his ideological compatriots are a growing force in the Democratic Party. There have been a series of overtly (and well-publicized) antisemitic acts on college campuses arising from the extreme left. Some Democratic politicians openly admire antisemites ranging from the overt (Farrkhan) to the somewhat more subtle (Omar). But 34% of American Jews see no threat at all.

With regard to radical Islam, there have been several murders of Jews and attacks on Jewish institutions emanating from radical Islamists over the last two decades, and Al Qaeda chose to attack New York City on 9/11 in part from antisemitic motive. Antisemitic violence in Europe, including well-publicized murders, comes primarily from Islamists. But 45% of American Jews see no threat at all or only a slight threat from extremist Islamists.

Note also this question:

Over the past five years, do you think antisemitism in the United States has…

Increased a lot 43%

Increased somewhat 41%

Stayed the same 12%

Decreased a little 3%

Decreased a lot 1%

There is, in fact, no good empirical evidence that antisemitism has increased *at all,* much less a lot, though extremist antisemites have become more vocal, organized, and more able to get a platform now that mainstream gatekeepers in the media no longer serve that function. Have they become more violent? Probably somewhat, but that’s a different question than whether antisemitism overall has increased.

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