Daily Media Links 10/8

October 8, 2021   •  By Nathan Maxwell   •  
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Ed. note: The Daily Media Update will return Tuesday, October 12.

Congress

Sen. Ted Cruz: Sens. Cruz, Grassley, Judiciary Republicans Push Back on Justice Department Crackdown on Free Speech of Parents Protesting School Boards

U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), John Kennedy (R-La.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today demanded the Department of Justice (DOJ) not interfere with local school board meetings or threaten the use of federal law enforcement to deter parents’ free speech. This comes after DOJ issued a memorandum suggesting federal law enforcement may need to assist policing local school board meetings.

In the letter, the senators wrote:

“We are concerned about the appearance of the Department of Justice policing the speech of citizens and concerned parents. We urge you to make very clear to the American public that the Department of Justice will not interfere with the rights of parents to come before school boards and speak with educators about their concerns, whether regarding coronavirus-related measures, the teaching of critical race theory in schools, sexually explicit books in schools, or any other topic.”

[…]

“To be clear, violence and true threats of violence are not protected speech and have no place in the public discourse of a democracy… However, the FBI should not be involved in quashing and criminalizing discourse that is well beneath violent acts… It is not appropriate to use the awesome powers of the federal government – including the PATRIOT Act, a statute designed to thwart international terrorism – to quash those who question local school boards.”

Politico: Frustrated voting-rights advocates claw for opening on Senate filibuster

By Zach Montellaro

Senate Democrats have now turned their attention to two other pieces of election legislation: the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act…and the Freedom to Vote Act, a pared down version of H.R. 1 that [Sen. Joe] Manchin brokered with his Democratic colleagues.

The West Virginian has been in conversations with Republican colleagues to try to find any sort of compromise, POLITICO has reported, but the odds of securing 10 Republican senators who would sign on to break a filibuster for any sort of election legislation is very low. That looming failure is one of the last things advocates pin their hopes on for Manchin to change his mind on the filibuster.

“A reasonable person in Joe Manchin’s position would, upon discovering that there are not 10 Republican senators of good conscience … will vote to make an exception to the filibuster,” [Rep. Mondaire Jones] said.

It will be tested soon. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter on Monday that senators should be prepared to consider both pieces of legislation “this work period or immediately at the start of the next.”

Slate: Why It’s No Laughing Matter That a Senator Asked Facebook to “Commit to Ending Finsta”

By Jeff Kosseff

At a hearing last week, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, posed the question to Antigone Davis, the head of global safety for Facebook, Instagram’s parent company.

Davis paused. “Senator, again, let me explain. We don’t actually—we don’t actually do finsta. What finsta refers to is young people setting up accounts where they may want to have more privacy.”…

The jokes about whether Blumenthal understands finsta distract from a far more important issue: A member of Congress asked a large social media platform to prevent at least some users from communicating pseudonymously. Such discussions must account for the vital role that anonymity and pseudonymity have played in the American conception of free speech and privacy since our nation’s founding…

As I describe in my book, the First Amendment has created a culture of anonymity empowerment that allows individuals to decide how much identifying information to disclose. Anonymity is not binary; people could reveal some identifying details but not others. Or they could choose to disclose their identities to some people while remaining anonymous to most. Even the authors of the Federalist Papers—Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay—unmasked themselves as the men behind “Publius” to a select handful of associates.

DOJ

The Dispatch: Federal Probe Scrutinizes Financial Dealings of the American Conservative Union

By Andrew Egger

Sources tell The Dispatch that federal investigators are currently looking into possible criminal campaign-finance misdeeds at [the American Conservative Union] during Matt Schlapp’s tenure. As part of the investigation, the FBI has interviewed former and current ACU employees about the financial dealings of the organization and its leaders—and in particular, as one source said, about their “knowledge of the events leading up to the endorsement of Brian Kelsey.”

PACs

Axios: AT&T quietly becomes powerhouse in conservative politics

By Michael Mooney and Tasha Tsiaperas

[AT&T] is one of the top donors to the sponsors of Texas’ abortion ban. Since 2018, the company has donated $301,000 to the bill’s sponsors, according to popular.info…

This week the Dallas Morning News rejected an ad from a Democratic Super PAC that criticized the telecom giant.

Text in the unpublished ad reads: “AT&T helped fund the anti-abortion politicians who wrote the dangerous law.” …

The other side: “We have never taken a position on the issue of abortion, and the Texas legislation was no exception,” an AT&T spokesperson told Axios. “We did not endorse nor support passage of Senate Bill 8 in the Texas legislature. Our employee political action committees have never based contribution decisions on a legislator’s positions on the issue of abortion, and employee PAC contributions to Texas legislators went to both opponents and supporters of Senate Bill 8.”

The Media

Gallup: Americans’ Trust in Media Dips to Second Lowest on Record

By Megan Brenan

Americans’ trust in the media to report the news fully, accurately and fairly has edged down four percentage points since last year to 36%, making this year’s reading the second lowest in Gallup’s trend.

In all, 7% of U.S. adults say they have “a great deal” and 29% “a fair amount” of trust and confidence in newspapers, television and radio news reporting — which, combined, is four points above the 32% record low in 2016, amid the divisive presidential election campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. In addition, 29% of the public currently registers “not very much” trust and 34% have “none at all.” …

Partisans’ trust in the media continues to be sharply polarized. Currently, 68% of Democrats, 11% of Republicans and 31% of independents say they trust the media a great deal or fair amount.

Free Speech

CNBC: Nobel Peace Prize goes to journalists Maria Ressa, Dmitry Muratov for work on freedom of expression

By Chloe Taylor

The 2021 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression.

The Nobel committee praised Ressa and Muratov for “their courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia.”

“They are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions,” it said in a press release following the announcement Friday.

Washington Post: Singapore passes ‘most powerful’ foreign interference law amid fears of ever-shrinking space for dissent

By Rachel Pannett

Singapore’s Parliament has passed a law aimed at countering foreign interference that is potentially so powerful rights groups and legal experts worry it could crush public debate in a city-state where authorities are already frequently accused of curbing civil liberties.

The law, approved late Monday after a 10-hour session, would allow authorities to compel Internet service providers and social media platforms to provide user information, block content and remove applications used to spread content they deem hostile.

Groups and individuals involved in local politics can also be designated “politically significant persons,” which would require them to disclose foreign funding sources and subject them to other “countermeasures” to reduce the risk of overseas interference.

Legal experts say the law risks capturing legitimate civil activities undertaken by Singaporeans. The move is the latest in a series of legislation that critics say has reduced space for public debate.

Online Speech Platforms

Axios:  Google, YouTube to prohibit ads and monetization on climate denial content

By Sara Fischer

Google and YouTube on Thursday announced a new policy that prohibits climate deniers from being able to monetize their content on its platforms via ads or creator payments…

Google advertisers and publishers, as well as YouTube creators, will be prohibited from making ad revenue off content that contradicts “well-established scientific consensus around the existence and causes of climate change,” the company’s ads team said…

“Advertisers simply don’t want their ads to appear next to this content. And publishers and creators don’t want ads promoting these claims to appear on their pages or videos,” the company said…

[T]his update is notable, given how hard it can be to characterize certain commentary about climate change as denialism or misinformation.

The tech giant says that when evaluating content against the new policy, “we’ll look carefully at the context in which claims are made, differentiating between content that states a false claim as fact, versus content that reports on or discusses that claim.”

The company says it has consulted with experts, like representatives of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment Reports, to create the policy.

Washington Post: Stop comparing Facebook and Instagram to cigarettes

By James Hohmann

The fact that Facebook is spending untold millions on an ad campaign begging for new regulations in the United States should be a red flag for critics of the company who are demanding the same thing. Modernizing Internet regulation is important and necessary, but it needs to be done with care. With a nearly $1 trillion market cap, and about $30 billion in annual net income in 2020, the tech giant can afford compliance costs imposed by the government — costs that could create barriers to entry for start-ups who want to offer a better service.

Associated Press: Australia wants Facebook held liable for anonymous comments

By Rod McGuirk

Australia’s prime minister on Thursday described social media as a “coward’s palace” and warned that digital platforms including Facebook should be held liable for defamatory comments posted anonymously…

The [Australian] government wants social media users to be required to identify themselves…

“Social media has become a coward’s palace where people can just go on there, not say who they are, destroy people’s lives and say the most foul and offensive things to people, and do so with impunity,” he added.

His comments come as Australian state and territory governments are rushing to rewrite their defamation laws after the High Court last month set a precedent for the internet age, ruling that media outlets can be held liable for defamatory comments posted by third parties on their Facebook pages.

Nathan Maxwell

https://www.ifs.org/author/nmaxwell/

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