The Hunt

The Hunt is a movie that intended to use the familiar, vicious fiction trope of the rich hunting the poor for sport to offer a satirical take on modern politics. The hunters in this case (led by a brittle, vengeful Hilary Swank) are liberal urban elites. The victims are so-called “deplorables” (yes, the term is used) who espouse populist conservative rhetoric.

A dozen of these Trumpists are kidnapped and forced to run or fight for their lives. Most participants end up brutally killed, with Crystal (Betty Gilpin) as the final “red state” survivor attempting to bring the whole sick scheme down.

The movie was supposed to be released in August 2019, but the trailers drew fire from conservatives (including President Donald Trump), who believed The Hunt was deliberately fostering hatred toward them. It finally got its theatrical release in March.

The outrage was undeserved; the right-wing critics missed the point of this apparent product of the Hollywood leftists they hate and fear. It is very clear in The Hunt that we’re not supposed to be rooting for the petty, whiny, privileged hunters, who talk in the language of social justice buzzwords and are, indeed, the villains of the story. The deplorables may be under-educated blowhards who believe in conspiracies, but they are obviously the victims. Crystal—partly because she eschews politics entirely—is the only character worth rooting for.

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The Hunt

The Hunt is a movie that intended to use the familiar, vicious fiction trope of the rich hunting the poor for sport to offer a satirical take on modern politics. The hunters in this case (led by a brittle, vengeful Hilary Swank) are liberal urban elites. The victims are so-called “deplorables” (yes, the term is used) who espouse populist conservative rhetoric.

A dozen of these Trumpists are kidnapped and forced to run or fight for their lives. Most participants end up brutally killed, with Crystal (Betty Gilpin) as the final “red state” survivor attempting to bring the whole sick scheme down.

The movie was supposed to be released in August 2019, but the trailers drew fire from conservatives (including President Donald Trump), who believed The Hunt was deliberately fostering hatred toward them. It finally got its theatrical release in March.

The outrage was undeserved; the right-wing critics missed the point of this apparent product of the Hollywood leftists they hate and fear. It is very clear in The Hunt that we’re not supposed to be rooting for the petty, whiny, privileged hunters, who talk in the language of social justice buzzwords and are, indeed, the villains of the story. The deplorables may be under-educated blowhards who believe in conspiracies, but they are obviously the victims. Crystal—partly because she eschews politics entirely—is the only character worth rooting for.

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Brickbat: Essentially Dumb

A French appellate court has upheld a lower court ruling that barred Amazon from selling non-essential goods during the coronavirus pandemic. The ruling limits Amazon’s sales to food, medical supplies and hygiene products. Amazon faces a fine of  €100,000 (about $108,000) for every delivery that violates the court ruling.

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Brickbat: Essentially Dumb

A French appellate court has upheld a lower court ruling that barred Amazon from selling non-essential goods during the coronavirus pandemic. The ruling limits Amazon’s sales to food, medical supplies and hygiene products. Amazon faces a fine of  €100,000 (about $108,000) for every delivery that violates the court ruling.

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First thoughts on the section 230 executive order

For all the passion it has unleashed, President Trump’s executive order on section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is pretty modest in impact.  It doesn’t do anything to undermine the part of section 230 that protects social media from liability for the things that its users say. That’s paragraph (1) of section 230(b), and the order practically ignores it.

Instead, the order is all about paragraph (2), which protects platforms from liability when they remove or restrict certain content: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of  … any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable.”

This makes some sense in terms of the President’s grievance.  He isn’t objecting to Twitter’s willingness to give a platform to people he disagrees with.  He objects to Twitter’s decision to cordon off his speech with a fact-check warning, as well as all the other occasions on which Twitter and other social media platforms have taken action against conservative speech. So it makes sense for him to focus on the provision that seems to immunize biased and pretextual decisions to downgrade viewpoints unpopular in the Valley.

(I note here that the existence of a liberal bias in the application of social media content mediation is heavily contested, especially by commentators on the left. They point out, correctly, that the evidence of a left-leaning bias is anecdotal and subjective. Of course the same could be said of left-leaning bias in media outlets like the Washington Post or the New York Times. I’m friends with many reporters who deny such a bias exists. Yet most readers of these and other traditional media recognize that there is bias at work there—rarely reporting the facts, but often in deciding which stories are newsworthy, or how the facts are presented, or past events are summarized. If you are sure there’s no bias at work in the mainstream press, then I can’t persuade you that the same dynamic is at work on social media’s content moderation teams.  But if you have seen even a glimmer of liberal bias in the New York Times, you might ask yourself why there would be less in the decisions of Silicon Valley’s content police, whose decisions are often made in secret by unaccountable young people who have not been inculcated in a journalistic ethic of objectivity.)

What’s interesting and useful in the order’s focus on content derogation is that it addresses precisely the claim that anticonservative bias isn’t real. For it is aimed at bringing speech suppression decisions into the light, where we can all evaluate them.

In fact, that’s pretty much all it’s aimed at.  The order really only has two and a half substantive provisions, and they’re all designed to increase the transparency of takedown decisions.

The first provision tells NTIA (the executive branch’s liaison to the FCC) to suggest a rulemaking to the FCC. The purpose of the rule is to spell out what it means for the tech giants to carry out their takedown policies “in good faith.” The order makes clear the President’s view that takedowns are not “taken in good faith if they are “deceptive, pretextual, or inconsistent with a provider’s terms of service” or if they are “the result of inadequate notice, the product of unreasoned explanation, or [undertaken] without a meaningful opportunity to be heard.” This is not a Fairness Doctrine for the internet; it doesn’t mandate that social media show balance in their moderation policies. It is closer to a Due Process Clause for the platforms.  They may not announce a neutral rule and then apply it pretextually. And the platforms can’t ignore the speech interests of their users by refusing to give users even notice and an opportunity to be heard when their speech is suppressed.

The second substantive provision is similar. It asks the FTC, which has a century of practice disciplining the deceptive and unfair practices of private companies, to examine social media takedown decisions through that lens.  The FTC is encouraged (as an independent agency it can’t be told) to determine whether entities relying on section 230 “restrict speech in ways that do not align with those entities’ public representations about those practices.”

(The remaining provision is an exercise of the President’s sweeping power to impose conditions on federal contracting. It tells federal agencies to take into account the “viewpoint-based speech restrictions imposed by each online platform” in deciding whether the platform is an “appropriate” place for the government to post its own speech. It’s hard to argue with that provision in the abstract. Federal agencies have no business advertising on, say, Pornhub. In application, of course, there are plenty of improper or unconstitutional ways the policy could play out. But as a vehicle for government censorship it lacks teeth; one doubts that the business side of these companies cares how many federal agencies maintain their own Facebook pages or Twitter accounts. And in any event, we’ll have time to evaluate this sidecar provision when it is actually applied.)

That’s it.  The order calls on social media platforms to explain their speech suppression policies and then to apply them honestly. It asks them to provide notice, a fair hearing, and an explanation to users who think they’ve been treated unfairly or worse by particular moderators.

I’ve had many conversations with participants in the debate over the risks arising from social media’s sudden control of what ordinary Americans (or Brazilians or Germans) can say to their friends and neighbors about the issues of the day. That is a remarkable and troubling development for those of us who hoped the internet would bring a flowering of  views free from the intermediation of traditional sources. But you don’t have to be a conservative to worry about how this unprecedented power could be abused.

In another context, I have offered a rule of thumb for evaluating new technology: You don’t really know how evil a technology can be until the engineers who depend on it for employment begin to fear for their jobs.  Today, social media’s power is treated by the companies themselves as a modest side benefit of their astounding rise to riches; they can stamp out views they hate as a side gig while tending to the real business of extending their reach and revenue. But every one of us should wonder, “How they will use that power when the ride ends and their jobs are at risk?” And, more to the point, “How will we discover what they’ve done?”

Such questions explain why even those who don’t lean to the right think that the companies’ control of our discourse needs more scrutiny. There are no easy ways to discipline the power of Big Tech in a country that has a first amendment, but the answer most observers offer is more transparency.

We need, in short, to know more about when and how and why the big platforms decide to suppress our speech.

This executive order is a good first step toward finding out.

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First thoughts on the section 230 executive order

For all the passion it has unleashed, President Trump’s executive order on section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is pretty modest in impact.  It doesn’t do anything to undermine the part of section 230 that protects social media from liability for the things that its users say. That’s paragraph (1) of section 230(b), and the order practically ignores it.

Instead, the order is all about paragraph (2), which protects platforms from liability when they remove or restrict certain content: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of  … any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable.”

This makes some sense in terms of the President’s grievance.  He isn’t objecting to Twitter’s willingness to give a platform to people he disagrees with.  He objects to Twitter’s decision to cordon off his speech with a fact-check warning, as well as all the other occasions on which Twitter and other social media platforms have taken action against conservative speech. So it makes sense for him to focus on the provision that seems to immunize biased and pretextual decisions to downgrade viewpoints unpopular in the Valley.

(I note here that the existence of a liberal bias in the application of social media content mediation is heavily contested, especially by commentators on the left. They point out, correctly, that the evidence of a left-leaning bias is anecdotal and subjective. Of course the same could be said of left-leaning bias in media outlets like the Washington Post or the New York Times. I’m friends with many reporters who deny such a bias exists. Yet most readers of these and other traditional media recognize that there is bias at work there—rarely reporting the facts, but often in deciding which stories are newsworthy, or how the facts are presented, or past events are summarized. If you are sure there’s no bias at work in the mainstream press, then I can’t persuade you that the same dynamic is at work on social media’s content moderation teams.  But if you have seen even a glimmer of liberal bias in the New York Times, you might ask yourself why there would be less in the decisions of Silicon Valley’s content police, whose decisions are often made in secret by unaccountable young people who have not been inculcated in a journalistic ethic of objectivity.)

What’s interesting and useful in the order’s focus on content derogation is that it addresses precisely the claim that anticonservative bias isn’t real. For it is aimed at bringing speech suppression decisions into the light, where we can all evaluate them.

In fact, that’s pretty much all it’s aimed at.  The order really only has two and a half substantive provisions, and they’re all designed to increase the transparency of takedown decisions.

The first provision tells NTIA (the executive branch’s liaison to the FCC) to suggest a rulemaking to the FCC. The purpose of the rule is to spell out what it means for the tech giants to carry out their takedown policies “in good faith.” The order makes clear the President’s view that takedowns are not “taken in good faith if they are “deceptive, pretextual, or inconsistent with a provider’s terms of service” or if they are “the result of inadequate notice, the product of unreasoned explanation, or [undertaken] without a meaningful opportunity to be heard.” This is not a Fairness Doctrine for the internet; it doesn’t mandate that social media show balance in their moderation policies. It is closer to a Due Process Clause for the platforms.  They may not announce a neutral rule and then apply it pretextually. And the platforms can’t ignore the speech interests of their users by refusing to give users even notice and an opportunity to be heard when their speech is suppressed.

The second substantive provision is similar. It asks the FTC, which has a century of practice disciplining the deceptive and unfair practices of private companies, to examine social media takedown decisions through that lens.  The FTC is encouraged (as an independent agency it can’t be told) to determine whether entities relying on section 230 “restrict speech in ways that do not align with those entities’ public representations about those practices.”

(The remaining provision is an exercise of the President’s sweeping power to impose conditions on federal contracting. It tells federal agencies to take into account the “viewpoint-based speech restrictions imposed by each online platform” in deciding whether the platform is an “appropriate” place for the government to post its own speech. It’s hard to argue with that provision in the abstract. Federal agencies have no business advertising on, say, Pornhub. In application, of course, there are plenty of improper or unconstitutional ways the policy could play out. But as a vehicle for government censorship it lacks teeth; one doubts that the business side of these companies cares how many federal agencies maintain their own Facebook pages or Twitter accounts. And in any event, we’ll have time to evaluate this sidecar provision when it is actually applied.)

That’s it.  The order calls on social media platforms to explain their speech suppression policies and then to apply them honestly. It asks them to provide notice, a fair hearing, and an explanation to users who think they’ve been treated unfairly or worse by particular moderators.

I’ve had many conversations with participants in the debate over the risks arising from social media’s sudden control of what ordinary Americans (or Brazilians or Germans) can say to their friends and neighbors about the issues of the day. That is a remarkable and troubling development for those of us who hoped the internet would bring a flowering of  views free from the intermediation of traditional sources. But you don’t have to be a conservative to worry about how this unprecedented power could be abused.

In another context, I have offered a rule of thumb for evaluating new technology: You don’t really know how evil a technology can be until the engineers who depend on it for employment begin to fear for their jobs.  Today, social media’s power is treated by the companies themselves as a modest side benefit of their astounding rise to riches; they can stamp out views they hate as a side gig while tending to the real business of extending their reach and revenue. But every one of us should wonder, “How they will use that power when the ride ends and their jobs are at risk?” And, more to the point, “How will we discover what they’ve done?”

Such questions explain why even those who don’t lean to the right think that the companies’ control of our discourse needs more scrutiny. There are no easy ways to discipline the power of Big Tech in a country that has a first amendment, but the answer most observers offer is more transparency.

We need, in short, to know more about when and how and why the big platforms decide to suppress our speech.

This executive order is a good first step toward finding out.

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Minneapolis Police Killed George Floyd, Then Failed To Protect Property Owners From Riots

Police in Minneapolis catalyzed Wednesday night’s violent protests by killing George Floyd on Monday. They’ve since done a terrible job of protecting innocent property owners from being victimized by the rioting that’s erupted in response to Floyd’s death.

Floyd was killed Monday night after being stopped by four officers with the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) on suspicion of forgery. During his arrest, one of the officers held his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes while the man complained that he couldn’t breathe. Floyd later died in the hospital.

Video of the incident, and later factual discrepancies in the police account of the event, was enough to get all four officers fired on Tuesday, and for the U.S. Department of Justice to open a civil rights investigation into Floyd’s death.

Neither move has been enough to mollify many in Minneapolis, who’ve taken to the streets for two nights of demonstrations that have turned increasingly violent.

On Tuesday, protestors vandalized police vehicles and threw rocks at a local MPD precinct building where the four fired officers involved in Floyd’s death were assigned. Police responded with rubber bullets and tear gas.

Things escalated dramatically last night when further demonstrations resulted in the looting of local businesses. At least 16 buildings were damaged in the protests, according to the city’s fire chief.

Videos and photos of the protests and their aftermath show an Autozone being torched, a Target being looted, and an under-construction apartment complex being set on fire.

One of the few bright spots was video captured by reporters of several armed men protecting a tobacconist from rioters. Their presence could well have prevented the business from being vandalized or even destroyed.

That these four amateurs were able to protect this one business raises the question of why the city’s more numerous and better equipped professional police weren’t able to protect other businesses in a similar fashion.

Police departments exist, at least on paper, in order to protect people’s rights and people’s property. Over the past couple of days, police in Minneapolis have proven unable to do either.

Minneapolis City Councilmember Jeremiah Ellison summed up their failure pretty well in a tweet.

Obviously, the destruction of businesses that had nothing to do with Floyd’s death is unjustified. Anyone guilty of vandalism or theft during the past few days of protest deserves to be punished.

None of this relieves police of their responsibility to ensure public order or protect innocent people and businesses from being violated.

In response to questions about last night’s destruction, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo put the blame onto outside agitators, saying, “People involved in the criminal conduct last night were not known Minneapolitans.” Perhaps he should look closer to home when trying to assign blame for the root of the destruction of the past few days.

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Minneapolis Police Killed George Floyd, Then Failed To Protect Property Owners From Riots

Police in Minneapolis catalyzed Wednesday night’s violent protests by killing George Floyd on Monday. They’ve since done a terrible job of protecting innocent property owners from being victimized by the rioting that’s erupted in response to Floyd’s death.

Floyd was killed Monday night after being stopped by four officers with the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) on suspicion of forgery. During his arrest, one of the officers held his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes while the man complained that he couldn’t breathe. Floyd later died in the hospital.

Video of the incident, and later factual discrepancies in the police account of the event, was enough to get all four officers fired on Tuesday, and for the U.S. Department of Justice to open a civil rights investigation into Floyd’s death.

Neither move has been enough to mollify many in Minneapolis, who’ve taken to the streets for two nights of demonstrations that have turned increasingly violent.

On Tuesday, protestors vandalized police vehicles and threw rocks at a local MPD precinct building where the four fired officers involved in Floyd’s death were assigned. Police responded with rubber bullets and tear gas.

Things escalated dramatically last night when further demonstrations resulted in the looting of local businesses. At least 16 buildings were damaged in the protests, according to the city’s fire chief.

Videos and photos of the protests and their aftermath show an Autozone being torched, a Target being looted, and an under-construction apartment complex being set on fire.

One of the few bright spots was video captured by reporters of several armed men protecting a tobacconist from rioters. Their presence could well have prevented the business from being vandalized or even destroyed.

That these four amateurs were able to protect this one business raises the question of why the city’s more numerous and better equipped professional police weren’t able to protect other businesses in a similar fashion.

Police departments exist, at least on paper, in order to protect people’s rights and people’s property. Over the past couple of days, police in Minneapolis have proven unable to do either.

Minneapolis City Councilmember Jeremiah Ellison summed up their failure pretty well in a tweet.

Obviously, the destruction of businesses that had nothing to do with Floyd’s death is unjustified. Anyone guilty of vandalism or theft during the past few days of protest deserves to be punished.

None of this relieves police of their responsibility to ensure public order or protect innocent people and businesses from being violated.

In response to questions about last night’s destruction, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo put the blame onto outside agitators, saying, “People involved in the criminal conduct last night were not known Minneapolitans.” Perhaps he should look closer to home when trying to assign blame for the root of the destruction of the past few days.

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