Tyrants and Snowflakes
At a time when government and institutional overreach has never seemed more extreme, tyrants at the helm are using every means at their disposal to stifle free speech. Elsewhere -- on alternative media and in universities, in particular -- speech is being censored, ostensibly to protect the tender sensibilities of snowflakes -- those infantile sad sacks who need protection from normal debate and such thoughts as have not before penetrated the bubbles they inhabit.
Universities, under the thumb of federal education bureaucracies, institute Star Chamber proceedings against male students ostensibly to stem the (nonexistent) rape culture on campus, encouraging slanderous attacks on them and discouraging would-be defenders.
Simultaneously, they are preventing students and teachers from exercising a broad range of free speech. The latest example comes from Portland State University. To illustrate the stupidity of “gun free zones” a student wanted to advertise “murder free zones”. The university considered flyers promoting such zones could be “libelous” and “triggering,” and banned them. How this could be libelous escapes me. “Triggering”, in case, you missed it is a word used often in academic atmospheres to indicate speech or events that might set off fearful or unwanted emotions and feelings. Students of such tender, childish mindsets are to the critics of triggering bans “snowflakes” too delicate for the sometimes-heated world of debate and idea exchange which are essential to democracy. So we are left with this: to preclude heart flutters in those who consider “gun free zones” beyond parody, a student was banned from making fun of them.
I’m in full agreement with University of Chicago Professor Charles Lipson who argues on Facebook:
These are grotesque violations of basic democratic rights to voice alternative viewpoints, which universities should lead the way in protecting. Instead, universities have decided they should be a challenge-free bowl of mush, unwilling to let students grapple with alternative viewpoints. This is not just wrong. Protecting the students as if they are delicate flowers is a betrayal of universities' basic values."
It has also not escaped my attention that so often what is considered “triggering” and, therefore banned, depends on the orientation of the banners. Have you any substantial doubt that the Portland college banners oppose guns and anyone who disagrees with their viewpoint?
On campuses throughout the country Jewish students, for example, are assailed, intimidated and even the recipients of death threats in anti-Israeli demonstrations without anyone in any of the overstaffed administration offices intervening.
In sum, while at the same time ostensibly protecting delicate students, campus administrators are too often stifling students and teachers who oppose their own views and ignoring incidents where some students block free speech by violence and threats of violence. In this way, too, they betray the basic values of their institutions.
Similar though less extreme reports of verbal attacks on conservatives, males, and whites throughout the country with no response by the universities further underscore my belief that under the cover of protecting delicate sensibilities of favored groups, educational institutions are simply banning speech with which the nomenclatures there disagree.
As one male group complains:
College campuses are among the least tolerant places in America. Smug, elitist faculty gravitate to the easily mouthed clichés of feminism and other forms of political correctness to give them a false veneer of enlightenment and sophistication, and to separate them from the “guns and religions” crowd they find so abhorrent. This veneer arms them with McCarthyistic bats to attack anyone who doesn’t share their world view.
Quite a lesson we are giving these students, don’t you think? Shut up and conform to this week’s fashion or else.
By now the story of Lois Lerner’s IRS misdeeds and how they interfered with free speech and political organization during the 2012 election is so well known that I needn’t reiterate it. Recently, however, we learned that she was in regular contact in the same period of time with her friend the head of the governmental organization (Government Accountability Board) in Wisconsin which beset those who worked for Governor Walker with such horrors as nighttime armed house raids.
These interconnections matter because they reveal that the use of tax and campaign laws to limit political speech was part of a larger and systematic Democratic campaign. Speaking at the University of Wisconsin in 2010, President Obama sent his own political message to investigators.
Conservative nonprofits like the Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce were later subpoenaed and bound by secrecy orders as their fundraising all but ceased. Liberals worked together to turn the IRS and the GAB into partisan political weapons.
We know about the Wisconsin outrages only because a brave soul -- Eric O’Keefe of the Wisconsin Club for Growth -- defied a court-issued gag order and revealed what Milwaukee County D.A. John Chisholm’s office and GAB were doing. After a long slog through the courts, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has finally put a halt to it this week in a ruling that shut it down definitively.
“It is utterly clear that the special prosecutor has employed theories of law that do not exist in order to investigate citizens who were wholly innocent of any wrongdoing,” writes Justice Michael Gableman. “In other words, the special prosecutor was the instigator of a ‘perfect storm’ of wrongs that was visited upon the innocent [targets] and those who dared to associate with them.” (See excerpts nearby.)
The opinion eviscerates the attempt to criminalize political speech under the theory of illegal “coordination.” Prosecutors claimed that their targets had illegally coordinated their independent expenditure campaigns with Mr. Walker’s. But the court ruled that prosecutors stretched the definition of the words “political purposes” in Wisconsin campaign law to sweep in constitutionally protected political speech.
“The threat to free expression created by overbroad statutes is that, by potentially sweeping in constitutionally protected activity, individuals and groups may self-censor out of fear of vindictive or selective prosecution,” Justice Gableman writes.
But this ought to be a significant brushback to what has become the political left’s nationwide drive to criminalize campaign “coordination.”
President Obama ’s Justice Department recently said it will “aggressively pursue” coordination prosecutions.
There should also be a reckoning for the prosecutors who abused their power. Two of their targets have sued the prosecutors in state court for violating their free-speech rights, but there should also be some professional review of the kind that disbarred Duke lacrosse prosecutor Michael Nifong. Wisconsin’s governor has the power to remove a district attorney for misconduct, a step former Governor Tommy Thompson took even for lesser offenses.
Gag orders, as far as I know, are traditionally issued to prevent out of court material from interfering with or prejudicing the right to a fair trial. In other words in defense of constitutional rights. How odd to see them misused to cover up government overreach and preclude court challenge to such.
Should the Obama administration carry through on its threat and try to copy the storm trooper tactics of the Wisconsin prosecutors and obtain a gag order to keep the public from knowing about it, targets should be heartened by a ruling in California that held that a nondisclosure gag order in the case of national security letters was unconstitutional when the target there, too, took the step of challenging the gag order: (Due to a subsequent change in the law, the appeal of that case is still pending in the Ninth Circuit. Under Seal v. Holder.)
U.S. District Judge Susan Illston ordered the government to stop issuing so-called NSLs across the board, in a stunning defeat for the Obama administration’s surveillance practices. She also ordered the government to cease enforcing the gag provision in any other cases.
The telecommunications company received the ultra-secret demand letter in 2011 from the FBI seeking information about a customer or customers. The company took the extraordinary and rare step of challenging the underlying authority of the National Security Letter, as well as the legitimacy of the gag order that came with it.
After the telecom challenged the NSL, the Justice Department took its own extraordinary measure and sued the company, arguing in court documents that the company was violating the law by challenging its authority.
In her ruling, Judge Illston agreed with EFF, saying that the NSL nondisclosure provisions “significantly infringe on speech regarding controversial government powers.”
Illston found that although the government made a strong argument for prohibiting the recipients of NSLs from disclosing to the target of an investigation or the public the specific information being sought by an NSL, the government did not provide compelling argument that the mere fact of disclosing that an NSL was received harmed national security interests.
A blanket prohibition on disclosure, she found, was overly broad and “creates too large a danger that speech is being unnecessarily restricted.” She noted that 97 percent of the more than 200,000 NSLs that have been issued by the government were issued with nondisclosure orders.[/quote]
C. Social Media, Too, Are Being Plagued with Speech Censorship
In May I reported that Thomas H. Lipscomb ‘s Facebook account had been disabled and efforts to restore it and even to find out why this occurred had been unavailing.
Almost three months later and despite the efforts of numerous people that situation remains unchanged.
Lipscomb is a prominent and respected editor and writer. He was formerly the Chairman of the Center for the Digital Future in New York. He was a founder and CEO of two public companies in digital technology. He has been an executive in several media companies, most recently as CEO of Times Books, and he has written articles for publications such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal and online publications including this one.
While conservative and outspoken, in the many posts of his that I’ve read, I saw nothing that violated the terms Facebook imposes on its users -- nothing threatening, abusive, illegal, or pornographic. Just tough debate and a clear refusal to suffer fools gladly.
Facebook asked him to confirm his identity which, as someone who opposes anonymous posting, he was glad to do. The next thing he heard was that his account was permanently disabled. All his posts and information were scrubbed and even those of us who had even private messages from him found them scrubbed with conflicting explanations over time:
This message has been temporarily removed until we can verify the sender's account.
This message is no longer available because it was identified as abusive or marked as spam.
This message has been temporarily removed because the sender's account requires verification, or it was identified as abusive.
I’d like to think this wasn’t censorship -- that perhaps there’s some partisan novice at the switch, a glitch, a confusion with several other posters of the same name or some gameable programming issue where if people gang up and falsely complain about a poster whose views they find distasteful there’s a ban in effect. But asking around at most I was able to find a few posters who had received short term bans and, in the absence of screenshots of the “offending “ posts, I cannot say if those were warranted for some reason.
Gail Appel reports one such incident:
Doing a short stint on Facebook. Having taken a month long breather, I posted a comment to a liberal Jewish page and was suspended for a week. The link read that Jews support birth control, made evident in the Old Testament. Confused and appalled, I angrily posted that the link was insane.
The post was neither profane nor anti-Semitic. I introduced myself as an American Jew, It was a public page. The next day, I was unable to log on to FB. Suspended for five days. My comment was reported and deemed ‘unacceptable” by Facebook standards.
But the worst part of the Facebook procedure highlighted by Lipscomb’s case is there is often no real way to find out why a person’s account was disabled. No way to appeal a ban. Months of determined efforts are met with silence. Knowing that you can be unpersoned on Facebook should be a warning to download and store elsewhere anything important on your account.
As with censorship on campus, Facebook, too, shows amazing tolerance to anti-Semitic posts. As Algemeiner also reports. Thousands of death to Jews posts remain in place while benign but controversial free speech can get you banned for life.
Reddit, too, is being infected with the censorship virus.
Reddit's new CEO, co-founder Steve Huffman, has laid out a prospective fresh code of conduct for Reddit
On the Announcements subreddit, Huffman noted several kinds of content that would be banned under the new rules, which aren't yet final. Most of this was already forbidden in the current user agreement -- including personal information, anything that "incites harm or violence," content that is itself illegal (instead of just discussing something illegal), and sexually suggestive pictures of minors.
There's also a clause that looks similar to what Ellen Pao introduced earlier, banning "anything that harasses, bullies, or abuses an individual or group of people (these behaviors intimidate others into silence)."
In fact, Huffman announced contradictorily:
“Neither Alexis nor I created reddit to be a bastion of free speech, but rather as a place where open and honest discussion can happen,” Huffman wrote in a post on the site.”
How much you want to bet that what sounds to Huffman like a reasonable standard and to us as a perplexing inconsistency will continue as a tool of subjective censors? Maybe someone who understands free speech can help him out,
Speak up now, or forever hold your tongue.