Tag Archives: First Amendment

The People vs. Democracy?


What is Populism?, Author: Jan-Werner Mueller.

By Jan-Werner Mueller – The election result in Italy, where populists and far-right parties topped the polls, following the twin disasters of Brexit in the United Kingdom and Donald Trump’s election in the United States, seems certain to harden a common liberal belief: the people brought these calamities on themselves. “Ordinary citizens,” according to this view, are so irrational and ill-informed that they make terrible choices.

Such diagnoses are deeply mistaken. By focusing on individual citizens’ beliefs, they miss the structural reasons for today’s threats to democracy. As a result, they are also bound to yield the wrong practical lessons. If one really believes voters are incompetent or illiberal, the obvious next step is to take even more decision-making power away from them.

The problem starts when citizens view every issue purely as a matter of partisan identity, so that the credibility of climate science, for example, depends on whether one is a Republican or a Democrat. It gets worse when partisan identity becomes so strong that no arguments from or about the legitimacy of the other side ever get through.

Trump was not elected as the candidate of a grassroots movement of globalization’s angry white losers, but as the leader of an establishment party. Long before Trump, that party – and its cheerleaders in the right-wing media – had started to demonize its opponents and effectively told its followers that they could never opt for “European-style socialists” and other un-American abominations under any circumstances. Thus, Republicans who readily admitted that Trump was not qualified to be president voted for him anyway.

In the US, polarization is not an objective reflection of given cultural differences; it has at least partly been a conscious elite project to divide the country for political advantage and sometimes even personal profit. more>


Tech Vs. Democracy

By Guy Verhofstadt – In an age when most people get their news from social media, mafia states have had little trouble censoring social-media content that their leaders deem harmful to their interests. But for liberal democracies, regulating social media is not so straightforward, because it requires governments to strike a balance between competing principles.

After all, social-media platforms not only play a crucial role as conduits for the free flow of information; they have also faced strong criticism for failing to police illegal or abusive content, particularly hate speech and extremist propaganda.

These failings have prompted action from many European governments and the European Union itself. The EU has now issued guidelines for Internet companies, and has threatened to follow up with formal legislation if companies do not comply. As Robert Hannigan, the former director of the British intelligence agency GCHQ, recently observed, the window for tech companies to reform themselves voluntarily is quickly closing.

In fact, Germany has already enacted a law that will impose severe fines on platforms that do not remove illegal user content in a timely fashion. more>


Brookings experts on Trump’s National Security Strategy

Brookings Institution – The United States was born of a desire for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—and a conviction that unaccountable political power is tyranny.

For these reasons, our Founders crafted and ratified the Constitution, establishing the republican form of government we enjoy today. The Constitution grants our national government not only specified powers necessary to protect our God-given rights and liberties but also safeguards them by limiting the government’s size and scope, separating Federal powers, and protecting the rights of individuals through the rule of law. All political power is ultimately delegated from, and accountable to, the people.

We protect American sovereignty by defending these institutions, traditions, and principles that have allowed us to live in freedom, to build the nation that we love. And we prize our national heritage, for the rare and fragile institutions of republican government can only endure if they are sustained by a culture that cherishes those institutions.

We are committed to protecting the rights and dignity of every citizen. And we are a nation of laws, because the rule of law is the shield that protects the individual from government corruption and abuse of power, allows families to live without fear, and permits markets to thrive.

Our founding principles have made the United States of America among the greatest forces for good in history.

The United States will respond to the growing political, economic, and military competitions we face around the world.

China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity. They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence.

These competitions require the United States to rethink the policies of the past two decades—policies based on the assumption that engagement with rivals and their inclusion in international institutions and global commerce would turn them into benign actors and trustworthy partners. For the most part, this premise turned out to be false. more>


Did technology kill the truth?

By Tom Wheeler – We carry in our pockets and purses the greatest democratizing tool ever developed. Never before has civilization possessed such an instrument of free expression.

Yet, that unparalleled technology has also become a tool to undermine truth and trust.

The glue that holds institutions and governments together has been thinned and weakened by the unrestrained capabilities of technology exploited for commercial gain. The result has been to de-democratize the internet.

We exist in a time when technological capabilities and economic incentives have combined to attack truth and weaken trust. It is not an act of pre-planned perdition. Unchecked, however, it will have the same effect.

For a century-and-a-half, the economic model for media companies was to assemble information in order to attract eyeballs for advertising. To maximize that reach, traditional outlets curated that information for veracity and balance.

In stark contrast, the curation of social media platforms is not for veracity, but for advertising velocity. more>


How Americans became vulnerable to Russian disinformation

By Kent Harrington – Last week, Congress unveiled legislation that http://blogs.strategygroup.net/wp2/economy/?p=63300&preview=truewould force Facebook, Google, and other social media giants to disclose who buys online advertising, thereby closing a loophole that Russia exploited during the election.

Strip away the technobabble about better algorithms, more transparency, and commitment to truth, and Silicon Valley’s “fixes” dodge a simple fact: its technologies are not designed to sort truth from falsehoods, check accuracy, or correct mistakes. Just the opposite: they are built to maximize clicks, shares, and “likes.”

Despite pushing to displace traditional news outlets as the world’s information platforms, social media’s moguls appear content to ignore journalism’s fundamental values, processes, and goals. It is this irresponsibility that co-sponsors of the recent advertising transparency bill are seeking to address.

Still, Russia’s success in targeting American voters with bogus news could not have succeeded were it not for the second problem: a poorly educated electorate susceptible to manipulation. The erosion of civics education in schools, the shuttering of local newspapers – and the consequent decline in the public’s understanding of issues and the political process – conspire to create fertile ground for the sowing of disinformation. more>


Using “public interest algorithms” to tackle the problems created by social media algorithms

By Tom Wheeler – Technology and capitalism have combined to deliver us to a decidedly undemocratic outcome. The internet was once heralded as the great democratizing tool. That vision was smashed by the algorithms of the social media platforms. By fracturing society into small groups, the internet has become the antithesis of the community necessary for democratic processes to succeed.

This is bigger than the current discussion of political advertising rules for the internet. The questionable ads and postings are the result of the problem, not the cause of it. That problem is how the software algorithms that determine what you see on social media prioritize revenue over veracity.

In social media parlance, identifying users who like similar content is described as assembling a community. In reality, these groups are the un-community. Algorithms deliver only what they want to see, creating silos of prejudices and preferences that tear at the collective fabric required for a representative democracy. As the Russians demonstrated, organizing Americans into self-reinforcing echo chambers is ripe for exploitation.

Today, public interest groups of all political stripes monitor the mainstream media. With a public interest API they could also built public interest algorithms to accomplish the same for social media. To date, algorithms have been problem-creators.

It’s time for social media open APIs to enable problem-solving through public interest algorithms. more>



How Big Tech Became a Bipartisan Whipping Boy

By Nitasha Tiku – A few years ago, successful technology companies were widely envied as paragons of American business. No longer.

Against the backdrop of the 2016 election, social-media platforms that had been viewed as free, frictionless, neutral connections to the world looked instead like tools to undermine democracy.

Now concerns about their outsized influence on public debate, the real cost of their convenience, their voracious appetite to swallow markets and competitors, and their control over Americans’ personal data have formed a fog of suspicion that has many in Washington questioning the lax rules that facilitated their rise—and has politicians and public figures on all sides taking on big tech to score populist points. more>


Are corporations becoming the new arbiters of public morality?

After Charlottesville, CEOs have become our public conscience. Here’s what that says about capitalism in America.
By Tara Isabella Burton – The CEOs’ resignations are part of a broader trend of major corporations taking a public stand on issues of social justice. Web hosting site GoDaddy took down neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer after the Charlottesville violence, and Google later declined to host the site.

(It reappeared, briefly, on the dark web, then subsequently with a Russian address.)

Airbnb deleted the accounts of members it deemed to be white supremacists looking for Charlottesville accommodation. GoFundMe took down a crowd-funding campaign to raise money for the legal fees of the white nationalist who killed counterprotester Heather Hayer with his car.

“There is nothing on the internet,” Ridge Montes says, not a forum, a comments section of a news site, or a social media platform used to coordinate political protest events, “that isn’t owned by somebody.” In other words, political discourse and discourse about social goods is shaped at every level, for better or for worse, by companies with a financial interest in that discourse.

We affirm our values — and identity — at the shopping till as much as, or more than, the altar. more> https://goo.gl/kP9BJG


Did Google and GoDaddy Set a Dangerous Precedent by Dropping a Neo-Nazi Website?

By Jack Denton – GoDaddy’s decision comes at a particularly fraught moment in the debate over whether freedom of speech can be reconciled with attempts to quell hateful discourse and actions. Additionally, with the Internet becoming the preferred mode of public discourse, abusive trolling and rampant falsehoods have led some to call for increased accountability from Internet service providers and social media companies for the content they host and support.

The central question of this debate continues to be: Is freedom worth its consequences?

Preventing people from reaching the Daily Stormer’s website does nothing to actually combat the ideas. There’s the old, famous saying that the remedy for bad speech is more speech—it’s not silencing the bad speech. Hate speech is legal in the United States. And people are going to continue to express themselves in awful ways, and cutting off the domain name isn’t helpful for the dialogue.

Any attempt to try to hold service providers responsible is absolutely bound to backfire. In the marketplace of ideas, we need to have exposure to all sorts of ideas. Good ones, bad ones, fake ones—all of them are valuable in their own way. The reader is the only one whose judgment matters.

The problems in Charlottesville were not problems of speech, they were problems of violence. more> https://goo.gl/YBkDkM


Want to strengthen democracy? Exercise your freedom of religion

By Steven Paulikas – If Washington is correct, then the long-term decline of religious participation in America and other democratic countries is one of the root causes for the type of political decay we are experiencing—and the absence of a “national morality” is at the core of this. The first American president was not a religious zealot, but he nonetheless saw religious practice as an essential act of citizenship, especially among those of “refined education.”

There is a multitude of good reasons why Americans are deserting the faith institutions their forebears built, not the least of which is the litany of inexcusable abuses many have suffered in the name of religion. (And to be sure, not every faith group is dedicated to upholding peace and common human dignity.)

But the scale of exodus leaves one to wonder if the abandonment of “organized” religion is not something akin to the type of apathy that led left-leaning people like me to become complacent about our political institutions.

After all, the American state is guilty of just as many sins as religion, and yet there is no movement to abandon our institutions of democracy. more> https://goo.gl/Plgl03