Daily Media Links 1/6

January 6, 2022   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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In the News

The Gorka Reality Check (Newsmax): Parents Taking Charge

Ed. note: IFS client Simon Campbell discusses our lawsuit against the Pennsbury School Board’s censorship of parents and community members. Simon’s interview begins at 3:26. Learn more about the case here.


Political “Deepfake” Laws Threaten Freedom of Expression

By Alex Baiocco

One common justification governments give for limiting freedom of speech is the need to prevent false information, often about the government itself. Thankfully, in the United States, the First Amendment prevents government from acting as the arbiter of truth, particularly in the context of political speech.

Recently, politicians have become concerned about potential widespread distribution of “deepfakes” of candidates and public officials. In the political context, the term “deepfakes” most commonly refers to seemingly realistic, but altered, visual or audio media appearing to show candidates doing or saying something that they did not in fact say or do. The impulse to address potential nefarious electoral use of such technology is understandable. But, as history has shown, punishing false or misleading political speech will inevitably suppress political speech generally and do more harm than good.

Despite widespread opposition from civil liberties advocates across the ideological spectrum, a few states have already enacted laws banning the distribution of “manipulated” media featuring candidates close to an election, and several proposals have been introduced at the federal level. Before rushing to protect themselves from digitally altered media, lawmakers should consider the speech-chilling effects of overbroad regulation of edited content. Proposals aimed at regulating speech about government officials or candidates are likely to suppress political speech well beyond the intended target of intentionally deceptive content. Furthermore, such proposals are unlikely to pass constitutional muster.


The Courts

Election Law Blog: Federal District Court, Reconsidering Earlier Order, Dismisses Complaint that FEC Failed to Go After Jeb Bush for Illegally Coordinating with His Super PAC

By Rick Hasen

The court has held that the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 did not have standing to bring the complaint.

The court’s earlier opinion explained the stakes:

While Jeb Bush’s unsuccessful 2016 presidential campaign may seem like a footnote in political history given all that has transpired since, it continues to attract the attention of organizations dedicated to exposing violations of federal campaign finance laws…

Free Speech

National Review: Free Speech, America-Style

By Kevin D. Williamson

It is likely that, as a matter of global consensus, one set of rules is going to prevail: the American model or the European model — or, rather than “European,” the model that more closely resembles the narrower practices in most of the liberal democracies outside the United States.

Consider the case of Australia, where courts have ruled that there is no personal right to free speech, in spite of the country’s notional protections for freedom of political communication. In one important case, a worker in the national government’s immigration agency was fired for criticizing the agency’s performance in the matter of offshore immigration-detention facilities. She used a pseudonym, did not advertise her connection to the agency, made the posts on her own time from a personal device, etc. There was no real employment issue — she was simply fired for saying what she thinks, in private life…

Do not think, for a second, that it couldn’t happen here. These same illiberal instincts are ascendant in the United States, as well. But, for the moment, they are constrained by the Bill of Rights. And that is to be celebrated and cherished. But protecting American rights in American law is not enough. Law can put the brakes on the worst impulse in the culture, but culture always wins.

Independent Groups

Open Secrets: Liberal ‘dark money’ groups’ revenue soared ahead of 2020 elections

By Anna Massoglia

Tax records reveal even more money flowed to liberal “dark money” groups in the leadup to the 2020 election as their secretive networks funneled millions of dollars into political contributions and spending, a new OpenSecrets analysis finds. 

Candidates and Campaigns

Florida Politics: Darren Soto paving the way for Bitcoin donations to campaigns

By Scott Powers

The legality of cryptocurrency contributions to federal political campaigns is generally accepted. But it is not fully resolved by the Federal Election Commission, particularly regarding the details. There have been no Commission hearings or votes, just a single advisory opinion, answering a single question…

The FEC has not clarified yet whether that advisory opinion would also apply to candidates’ campaigns; whether donations to candidates should be limited to $100 like cash, or $5,600 like checks; or whether the policy could be extended to other cryptocurrencies, which weren’t around much in 2014 but are flourishing now…

Tracking Bitcoin contributions to campaigns is not easy. The FEC wants them listed as in-kind contributions. Information indicating that a Bitcoin transaction shows up only in footnotes in campaign finance reports.

“The transparency question arises in the context of identifying the contributors to a political campaign. Bitcoin is designed to be anonymous, with accounts identified only by Bitcoin addresses and user pseudonyms. This differs from contributions through tools from banking institutions like checking accounts and credit cards, which are highly regulated and require that individuals of those accounts be identifiable,” said Pete Quist, deputy research director for the nonpartisan watchdog group OpenSecrets.

Campaign treasurers must identify the donors, report the names, and confirm the contributions. But verifications of Bitcoin transactions cannot be confirmed through regulated financial institutions as with checks or credit cards, Quist noted.

That opens the prospect of ghost donors, a growing concern in an era of fears of foreign interference from countries such as Russia. The original source of the money may not be trackable.

Internet Speech Regulation

Federalist: Why Dan Crenshaw’s Section 230 Bill Won’t Stop Big Tech Censorship

By Rachel Bovard

After hosting a podcast last year emphasizing free-market solutions to perceived tech bias, where his guest from the R Street Institute casually analogized “amending Sec. 230” to “amending the United States Constitution,” Crenshaw announced this week that he will introduce his own Section 230 reform bill. The legislation comes in the wake of both feuding with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and in response to her subsequent permanent ban from Twitter.

“And @realmajoriegreene,” the congressman said on Instagram on Sunday, “instead of playing the victim about censorship maybe use your position as a LEGISLATOR to help pass LEGISLATION against censorship. Luckily,” he went on, “I’ve already done all the hard work for you and drafted a bill that would change Section 230 to prohibit political censorship.”

Online Speech Platforms

Washington Post: Facebook groups topped 10,000 daily attacks on election before Jan. 6, analysis shows

By Craig Silverman, Craig Timberg, Jeff Kao and Jeremy B. Merrill

Facebook executives have played down the company’s role in the Jan. 6 attack and have resisted calls, including from its own Oversight Board, for a comprehensive internal investigation. The company also has yet to turn over all the information requested by the congressional committee studying the Jan. 6 attack, though it says it is negotiating with the committee.

But the ProPublica-Post investigation, which analyzed millions of posts between Election Day and Jan. 6 and drew on internal company documents and interviews with former employees, provides the clearest evidence yet that Facebook played a critical role in the spread of false narratives that fomented the violence of Jan. 6.

Tiffany Donnelly

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