A clumsy, irrational approach to “hate groups” on Facebook

Facebook’s approach to “hate groups” threatens to purge the platform of conservative users, and threatens to actually strengthen and legitimize the very white nationalists that Facebook seeks to silence. It strengthens and energizes the Trump wing of the Republican Party. This is a stupid policy based on the irrational rantings of a so-called “anti-hate” organization that is in no way credible.

A week ago, Facebook removed pages associated with detestable “white nationalist” Richard Spencer. Mark Zuckerberg bragged that Facebook does not allow “hate groups” on its platform, and Facebook immediately banned Spencer’s pages when it was pointed out that they were there. That, of course, is not the end of it. From the Vice.com article on the banning:

And yet a quick search on Facebook turned up scores of pages linked to groups classified as “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The SPLC is a terrible source. They list mainstream orthodox Christian groups in the same category as neo-Nazis, the Westboro Baptist “church” and the Ku Klux Klan. These include the Alliance Defending Freedom, the American Family Association, the Family Research Council and the Traditional Values Coalition. If the Southern Poverty Law Center gets to determine who is allowed to be on Facebook, then all of these mainstream orthodox Christian groups will banned. I will also be gone, as well as the fan page for my blog. We might as well ban conservative Christian elected officials and candidates for office too.

If Facebook wants to help competitors grow, however, giving SPLC ban authority is how you do it. By all means, ban mainstream orthodox Christians from your platform, and watch as people set up shop elsewhere and watch as conservative and Christian users abandon the platform in droves. Facebook already has a bad reputation among conservatives, and handing authority to the extremists at SPLC will be the easiest way to provoke a mass exodus.

If Facebook did actually ban orthodox Christians from running Pages, it would have the opposite effect on real hate groups: It would legitimize them. Have you heard the story of the boy who cried wolf? Unfairly maligning Christians as “hate groups” will make people skeptical of the classifications of real hate groups. Racists can then make an appeal that they and Christians have a common enemy. They have been doing that already, and with the tribalist notion of “fighting the Left” that appeal would be more common.

Finally, this would strengthen the Trump wing of the Republican Party and expand his influence. The biggest reason Trump won the 2016 primaries – despite the fact that other candidates were more conservative, more principled and more qualified – was the mistaken belief that he was the only one willing to take the fight to the Left. As mainstream orthodox Christians are denied a platform on social media, they will become more tribal.

Is this what Facebook wants?

Facebook is playing with fire. We have already seen an exodus from Facebook over privacy issues, whether the concerns are legitimate or not. Telling tens of millions of mainstream orthodox Christians that our views are not welcome on the #1 social media site will only drive more people away – and that will reduce advertising dollars dramatically. It will expand the influence of platforms like Gab and possibly create new competitors. This is a foolish business model for Facebook.

Remembering Waco, 25 years later

Printed in the Herald-Times, April 20, 2018.

To the Editor:

April 19, 2018 was twenty five years since the Clinton Administration used military force, including tanks, against American citizens on American soil. About 80 people, including about 20 children, died during that raid. The original paramilitary raid in February 1993 that started the standoff was also foolish excessive force.

I wish that conservatives who are rightly angered over the botched siege on the Branch Davidian cultists would recognize the dangers of militarizing domestic police. David Koresh was an evil man, but this excessive force cannot be justified.

Let’s remember other victims of overly aggressive police raids. Kathryn Johnston was 92 when she was gunned down in her own home. Bounkham Phonesavanh was horribly maimed when a flash-bang grenade was tossed into his crib. Isaac Singletary was killed by police posing as drug dealers on his own front lawn. The 80 year old man tried to chase them off.

This has local implications. Several years ago, the city of Bloomington applied for a Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected (MRAP) military vehicle from the Obama administration. Bloomington did not get the MRAP, so they are instead purchasing a BearCat armored vehicle, also raising concerns about police militarization. We must oppose police militarization.

Headed toward a well-deserved death

OK, I am a huge fan of Rush Limbaugh, but a large portion of this rant is utter nonsense.

The idea that Millennials are “killing” various industries and brands because they are revolutionaries that want to overthrow institutions and traditions is foolishness and ignorance.

You know who is “killing” these brands and industries? The brands and industries themselves. This is a mass suicide. They have a generation coming up that is not interested in buying their product. So rather than adjust their business model, they blame the customers. Any business that blames its customers for loss of sales is a business headed toward a well-deserved death.

It is ridiculous. There may be reasons to criticize this generation, but their buying habits is not one of them. This is the free market at work.

Should social media be allowed to censor opinions?

We are (thankfully) protected by the First Amendment in these United States, so that we can state our opinion and the government cannot censor us or otherwise punish us for our speech. This is true no matter how vile our speech may be, and no matter how morally depraved our opinions are. But many people are still censored by social media policies – sometimes when content posted does not even violate written Terms of Service. A new argument has arisen on the populist Right: Should government prohibit social media companies from censoring opinions they do not like?

First, the argument that the First Amendment protects the “public square” of the Internet is legally indefensible. The First Amendment was never intended to police what private entities allow on their platforms. Newspapers that owned a printing press were not obligated to print anything they did not want to print, and that principle carries over to the digital realm. So the question is whether it is good policy for the government to take additional steps to protect free speech online.

Some would argue that it would be good policy to limit social media’s policing of opinions, because social media policies threaten to strangle the free exchange of ideas. This will only lead to more polarization and tribalism as people are driven to alternative platforms, and is harmful to democracy as even reasonable conservative opinions are lumped in with white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

We have a question we need to answer. Who do you trust less: Big Tech or Big Government? If censorship on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube become too onerous, users can always go to alternative platforms like Gab. My reach would be less, but I can speak freely. But if the government has the authority to tell social media companies what content they must allow, the government also has the authority to tell social media companies what content they may not allow. This is quite common in both Western “democracies” and Islamic states run by Sharia Law. I do not trust government to have this power.

I say we should trust the market. The coming decentralization of social media away from Facebook, Twitter and Google is a good thing. And it will be driven by users leaving those platforms for different ones with better policies, better enforcement of their Terms of Service (including not deleting content allowed by the TOS) and a more clear and understandable set of policies. Perhaps we will see a revival of the blogosphere, perhaps Gab will grow, or perhaps more platforms will become available. But we should not hand social media policy to a bunch of politicians who do not understand the platforms at all.

April 19

Twenty five years ago today, the Clinton Administration used military force – including tanks – against American citizens on American soil. Eighty people died on that awful day. Never forget this terrifying excessive force and abuse of power by the federal government. Never again!

Never forget the massacre in Waco!

Never forget the massacre in Waco!

20 Years ago today: Never forget Waco

The botched raid in Waco: 20 Years ago today

Lessons from Waco, 19 years later

April 19, 1993 vs. April 19, 1995

Pictures of naked women are not “journalism”

I do not expect a lot from the Herald-Times, but I do expect that when I am looking through the list of stories in today’s newspaper that I will not see pictures of naked women with their bare breasts fully visible. Even that expectation is too much to ask, apparently. The Herald-Times does realize that people with children are reading the online version, right? Do they really think a fully topless woman is a good choice for content to post on HeraldTimesOnline? The local newspaper needs to be much more careful with what they put on their website, because this is totally unacceptable.

As comedian Bill Cosby was walking out of a courthouse, a naked woman assaulted him. She had various words and phrases scrawled on her naked body, and the picture on HeraldTimesOnline featured full frontal nudity. I suspect some people will defend this on grounds of newsworthiness, but that is absurd. Obviously, the Bill Cosby case is newsworthy. The fact that he was assaulted by a naked woman is newsworthy. The fact that security is being increased due to this incident is newsworthy.

The photo of the woman’s bare breasts is not newsworthy. I saw another photo taken at the incident on another news website, which was a head-and-shoulders shot which did not show her bare breasts. That got the message across without being obscene. There is no journalistic value in showing the woman’s bare breasts. That photo was posted purely for shock value and to drive clicks. It certainly was shocking, as I did not expect bare breasts on my computer screen with my six year old in the room! If I was reading a celebrity gossip site, I would expect such things, but not from a local newspaper.

Thankfully, the photograph was removed shortly after I complained about it. This was a wire story that was picked up by the H-T, not content produced in Bloomington. Still, the Herald-Times needs to be much more selective and careful in screening content posted to their website. Finally, I cannot help but notice the hypocrisy: A “newspaper” that bans links to pictures of aborted babies on the Center for BioEthical Reform’s website (pictures that do have journalistic value) is posting pornography on their own site. Could the double standards get any more repulsive and disgusting?

Is Facebook a platform or a publisher?

Some conservatives are setting up a false dichotomy between being a platform and a publisher, and it has dangerous implications for free speech – not just on Facebook, but across the entire Internet.

Facebook is, for the most part, a platform. Facebook produces virtually no content itself. The vast majority of content is produced by either Pages or personal profiles. Almost no content is screened by Facebook before it goes on the site, so unlike sites like the Daily Wire or the Federalist, Facebook does not have an editorial policy for what is posted. In terms of content produced, Facebook is not a publisher.

Where Facebook starts to act like a publisher is curation of content in the news feed and sometimes overly aggressive censorship of content. But if the second item is what applies the “publisher” standard to Facebook, then every forum, every small time blog, and every newspaper or website comment section becomes vulnerable to the same regulations and legal liabilities (including damages in a lawsuit) as a traditional publisher.

Yes, Facebook censors content. But the reality is that every website or forum censors comments, posts and/or threads. I banned a Nazi a few weeks ago on my blog. I have deleted comments and banned others from commenting. If censorship of certain content is the standard, this is a bad and dangerous path.

What that means is this: If every site that allows reader comments or user-created content but also disallows certain content is actually a publisher, then that is the end of the Internet as we know it. Do not fool yourself into thinking that this will only impact Big Tech. In fact, Big Tech will be harmed the least because they can afford lawyers. Small-time websites and blogs will be subject to the whims of authoritarian politicians for threads or comments on those sites. This has frightening implications for free speech.

Congress was shockingly wise and forward thinking in the 1990’s when they made sure interactive content providers were not liable for content their readers posted. Now, two decades later, politicians who really do know better are threatening to undo the good that law created. This is because politicians hate free speech and they hate it when the average person can criticize them. Do not think this is about anything other than the political establishment trying to protect itself.

The repulsive dishonesty of The Atlantic

Much has been said about The Atlantic’s decision to terminate the employment of Kevin Williamson, but one aspect I do not think has been highlighted nearly enough is the fundamental dishonesty of the entire process. This seriously undermines the credibility of everything published by The Atlantic.

When Williamson was hired, there was a lot of complaining – from the publication’s readers and its staff. (As well, I am sure, from people who do not read it.) Under pressure, The Atlantic fired Williamson. But now they are spinning it as if they did not know about Williamson’s beliefs regarding capital punishment for women who have had abortions. Of course, this is an obvious lie.

Everyone knew what Williamson had said for years before he was hired by The Atlantic. This was not a surprise. His works, his opinions and his “firebrand” style were well known when he was offered a job. To pretend that any of this is new information is disgusting and repulsive. No so-called “journalist” should be spewing such obvious lies, especially when everyone knows they are lying.

The truth is the backlash over hiring Williamson led them to believe it was a “mistake.” Faced with the rebellion of readers and staff, the leadership at The Atlantic decided that keeping him was not worth the flack they were getting for hiring him in the first place. Everyone knows this to be a fact. Let me repeat: Everyone knows this. To pretend otherwise is to be a liar.

So why not just be honest about it? I would not agree with the decision, and I would think the editors of The Atlantic are cowards, but at least I could respect them for having the integrity to admit what they did. It is impossible to respect a publication led by people who are both cowards and liars. With this credibility-shredding dishonesty in full view, how can anything The Atlantic publishes be trusted? If they will lie so brazenly about this, how can we trust they will not lie in their “news” coverage? Simple: We can’t.

Quick note about Facebook

Despite the memes you may have seen, typing BFF on Facebook doesn’t prove your account is secure. There are certain words, phrases and abbreviations that Facebook highlights, and you get a little animation when you click on them.

One of those words is congrats, and another is xoxo.

The best way to ensure your Facebook account is secure is not to type certain keywords (which does nothing) but to enable two-factor authentication.

Addressing some anti-gun arguments

The reason gun control advocates are often dismissed by gun-rights advocates is that too many of them operate from one or more flawed premises. This includes the arguments made by gun-rights advocates and the traditional orthodox understanding of Scripture. I will address a couple of those flawed premises here.

Gun-rights advocates are not saying that anyone should have any weapon for any reason. As has been pointed out many times by gun-rights advocates, a number of weapons are already illegal. You cannot legally own a machine gun. You cannot legally own a rocket launcher, a tank, a stash of mustard gas or a nuclear weapon. The idea that gun-rights advocates want an unlimited right to keep and bear arms is a straw man.

Many people would disagree with the claim that the weapons Leftists want to ban “have no legitimate defensive purpose.” An AR-15, for example (which is not a military weapon, nor is it a machine gun) is considered by many to be ideal for home defense and many people have in fact used it for that exact purpose – and preserved their lives and the lives of their families in doing so.

It is true that the text of the Second Amendment does not mention hunting, but historical context matters. Hunting was common at the time the amendment was written, so that should be assumed to be protected. (Plus, there is the Ninth Amendment.) God made man omnivorous, and eating meat from an animal a hunter killed himself is no different from eating meat purchased from the store. It could easily be argued that hunting is more humane than buying meat at the store.

Furthermore, there are plenty of verses in Scripture about the justifiable use of lethal force in defense of one’s own life or the life of someone else. In the Old Testament, this includes Nehemiah 4:8-18 and Exodus 22:2. (It is important to remember that Jesus is the same God as the God of the OT.) In the New Testament, husbands specifically are commanded to provide for their families (see 1 Timothy 5:8 and Ephesians 5:25) and that includes protecting the family from those who would do harm.

If you are going to argue for gun control, then you need to accurately represent the arguments of gun rights advocates. That is the honorable thing to do, and it makes your argument more effective.