Daily Media Links 10/12: The Free-Speech Wars, Judge Won’t Let Feds Have Full Access to Names of People on Anti-Trump Site, and more…

October 12, 2017   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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Free Speech

National Review: New College Student Survey: Yes, Speech Can Be Violence

By David French

Conducted by McLaughlin & Associates for Yale’s William F. Buckley, Jr. Program, the survey queried 800 college students attending four-year private or public colleges, and the results were depressingly predictable.

First, the “good” news. Students claim to love free speech and intellectual diversity. For example, 83 percent agree that the First Amendment needs to be “followed and respected.” A whopping 84 percent agree that their school should “always do its best to promote intellectual diversity,” including by protecting free speech and inviting controversial speakers to campus. Similarly, 93 percent agree that there’s value in listening to and understanding “views and opinions that I may disagree with.”

But that’s not good news at all. It’s simply evidence that in the abstract students will claim to be open-minded. They’ll claim to value different views – right until the moment they really get offended. For example, 81 percent agree with the statement that “words can be a form of violence.”…

Almost 40 percent believe that it’s “sometimes appropriate” to “shout down or disrupt” a speaker.

The Courts

Reason: Judge Won’t Let Feds Have Full Access to Names of People on Anti-Trump Site

By Scott Shackford

As part of an effort to identify any protester who did anything illegal in D.C. the day Donald Trump was sworn in as president, the Department of Justice served a warrant against the web host DreamHost. The warrant was absurdly broad, attempting to get private data on anybody who had so much as visited DisruptJ20.org, a site used to organize anti-Trump protests. According to the company, the warrant as initially submitted would have required it to hand over the IP addresses of more than a million visitors to the site…

Yesterday Judge Moran put out a final order that made it clear he’s not going to let the Justice Department just wade through personally identifiable private information without any probable cause. DreamHost will be permitted to redact user information, and the Department of Justice won’t be able to access it unless it can show that a particular user is suspected of criminal activity.

“While the government has the right to execute its warrant,” Moran noted in his order, “it does not have the right to rummage through the information contained on DreamHost’s website and discover the identity of, or access communications by, individuals not participating in alleged criminal activity, particularly those persons who were engaging in protected 1st Amendment activities.”

The Media

CNN: Trump continues NBC threats, says ‘licenses must be challenged’

By Oliver Darcy and Brian Stelter

He explicitly threatened the press by saying on Twitter that “network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked.”…

He decried “fake news coming out of NBC and the Networks” and asked “At what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”

So the president is asserting that media companies which report aggressively about his administration should be punished by having their television station licenses scrutinized and possibly revoked.

In between those two tweets, Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that he found it “frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever it wants to write.”

Freedom of the press is a core principle of the U.S. Constitution.

When a reporter followed up and asked whether he believed there “should be limits on what the press should write,” Trump said, “No. The press should speak more honestly.”

Still, his comment raised eyebrows, especially because it was the latest remark in a string of heightened “fake news” attacks Trump has leveled against the press…

But his threat about TV licenses is essentially toothless.

Washington Examiner: Trump is baiting the media on free speech and journalists shouldn’t bite

By Tom Rogan

President Trump’s attacks on the media are sad and unbecoming of his office, but the media would do better not to overreact to them…

Most obviously, vis-a-vis NBC’s reporting and all the other reports President Trump has ever complained about, Trump has no means of implementing his will. Indeed, Trump has as much ability to suspend NBC’s broadcast license or launch a successful libel suit, as he has ability to transform into a cockroach and fly off into space…

What is relevant is that journalists understand what Trump gets by attacking the media. Namely, he gets to vent, distract from any of his own failings, and mobilize his base…

Ultimately, by jumping into the coliseum of Trump’s fake-news-fake-war, the media only feeds the baying crowd of Trump’s most fervent supporters. The better solution is for the media to remain in the stands, reporting and analyzing the president on his successes and failures and ignoring his siren song.

Washington Post: Trump escalates threats against press, calls news coverage ‘frankly disgusting’

By David Nakamura

While Trump has long attacked news coverage of his administration as unfair, his latest missives have morphed into vague threats of government action at his perceived adversaries.

Last week, angered by the ongoing investigations into his campaign’s ties to Russia, Trump suggested that the Senate Intelligence Committee investigate news outlets over “fake news.” Over the weekend, he expressed disdain at late-night television hosts over their “anti-Trump” material and proposed bringing back the Fairness Doctrine, a rule phased out in 1987 that had required broadcasters to provide “equal time” for divergent political views on certain issues.

First Amendment advocates roundly condemned the president over his remarks, calling them an assault on the Constitution.

“Mr. President: Words spoken by the President of the United States matter. Are you tonight recanting of the oath you took on January 20th to preserve, protect, and defend the First Amendment?” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said in a statement…

Legal experts called the president’s threat against NBC empty, noting that the FCC does not grant licenses to networks.

Internet Speech Regulation

New York Times: How Russia Harvested American Rage to Reshape U.S. Politics

By Nicholas Confessore and Daisuke Wakabayashi

All of these were recorded, posted or written by Americans. Yet all ended up becoming grist for a network of Facebook pages linked to a shadowy Russian company that has carried out propaganda campaigns for the Kremlin…

The Russian pages – with names like “Being Patriotic,” “Secured Borders” and “Blacktivist” – cribbed complaints about federal agents from one conservative website, and a gauzy article about a veteran who became an entrepreneur from People magazine. They took descriptions and videos of police beatings from genuine YouTube and Facebook accounts and reposted them, sometimes lightly edited for maximum effect…

As lawmakers debate tighter regulation for companies like Facebook, the trail of Russian digital bread crumbs underscores how difficult it will be to purge social media networks of foreign influence, or even to hamper the covert propaganda campaigns carried out on social platforms by Russia, China and other countries.

Copying other people’s content without proper attribution can be a violation of the social networks’ rules. But the content itself – the videos, posts and Instagram memes borrowed and shared on the Russian pages – are not explicitly violent or discriminatory, so they do not violate the rules of those services. Instead, they are precisely the type of engaging content these platforms are hungry for.

Reason: Latest Russia Conspiracy Theory: Facebook Pages Are Culture Hacks Meant to ‘Harvest Rage’

By Ed Krayewski

The latest reporting on Russia’s attempts to “interfere” with the U.S. presidential election focuses on Facebook groups that posted content created by Americans…

These pages-which the site has removed-were not unlike countless other politically oriented pages on Facebook. Since virtually anyone can start a Facebook page, and since the Russian pages reportedly suffered from broken English, it’s hard to imagine them having any real influence rather than being merely another interchangeable part of the online echo chamber…

“This is cultural hacking,” Jonathan Albright, research director of Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, told the Times. “They are using systems that were already set up by these platforms to increase engagement. They’re feeding outrage-and it’s easy to do, because outrage and emotion is how people share.”…

Are Russians trying to breed chaos by stoking certain segments of America’s political debates? Guess what: Free speech means our debates are always chaotic. That makes them stronger. Suppressing speech because Russians may have amplified it, on the other hand, undermines our culture of free speech and has the potential to be a lot more harmful than any Facebook page could possibly be.


ABC News: Sheryl Sandberg meets with lawmakers investigating Russia-linked Facebook ads

By Benjamin Siegel

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, met with top lawmakers investigating Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election at the Capitol Wednesday, after which the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee said they would release some of the thousands of Russian-linked Facebook ads that had been turned over to Congress.

Sandberg’s meeting with Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Mike Conaway, R-Texas, came as congressional investigators reviewed thousands of the social media ads linked to Russia that sought to sow division among U.S. voters ahead of the election…

“We’ve asked for Facebook’s help to help scrub any personally identifiable information, but it’s our hope that when they conclude, then we can release them publicly,” said Schiff…

Sandberg also met with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Wednesday. On Thursday, she will meet with members of the Congressional Black Caucus regarding race-related Facebook ads that were linked to Russia, according to a caucus aide. 

Daily Beast: Russia Probe Now Investigating Cambridge Analytica, Trump’s ‘Psychographic’ Data Gurus

By Betsy Woodruff and Spencer Ackerman

A data firm backed by some of Donald Trump’s closest allies is now facing scrutiny as part of an investigation into possible collusion between the president’s team and Russian operatives, The Daily Beast has learned.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) is looking at Cambridge Analytica’s work for President Donald Trump’s campaign as part of its investigation into Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 race, according to sources familiar with the probe.

The company is in the process of turning over documents to HPSCI, according to a source familiar with the committee’s work. Another source close to the investigation said that the probe’s focus on Cambridge Analytica is “fruitful.” 

Trump Administration

Wall Street Journal: The Free-Speech Wars

By Daniel Henninger

At the risk of stirring the fury of the Trumpians, let it be said that no one has mistaken Donald Trump for James Madison. But stay tuned.

America’s fourth president was among the originators of the nation’s constitutionally protected right of free speech. President Trump will be remembered as one of the country’s foremost practitioners of that right. Less appreciated is that the Trump administration may go down as a significant defender of the First Amendment when it most needed defending.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced in a speech at the Georgetown University Law School that the Justice Department will start intervening on the side of plaintiffs in campus free-speech cases.

The department has filed its first “statement of interest,” essentially an amicus brief, in a free-speech lawsuit brought against Georgia Gwinnett College, which has created free-speech zones, or “public forum areas,” requiring a college-approved reservation…

It would be nice to think the universities could reaffirm the First Amendment for reasons other than their federal-funding dependency. That may not happen, though, for one reason: Donald Trump. 

Candidates and Campaigns

ABC News: Twitter reverses decision to block Senate candidate’s campaign video

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press

Twitter is reversing a decision to keep Tennessee Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn from promoting a campaign video on that platform because of the congresswoman’s statements about the sale of fetal tissue for medical research.

Blackburn, a Republican running for the seat being opened by the pending retirement of Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, boasts in the ad that she “stopped the sale of baby body parts.”

Twitter initially told the candidate’s vendors that the statement could be perceived as “inflammatory” and evoke a negative reaction. The decision kept Blackburn from paying to promote the video on Twitter but it didn’t prevent individual users from posting it or linking to other social media platforms.

“After reconsidering the ad in the context of the entire message, we believe that there is room to refine our policies around these issues,” Twitter said in a statement.

Blackburn was quick to see political gain in the short-lived ban, posting on Twitter about “standing up to Silicon Valley.”

“It’s a real shame that this censorship happened in the first place,” said Blackburn spokeswoman Andrea Bozek.

The States

San Francisco Chronicle: Get big money out of California politics

By Delaine Eastin

California has proudly declared itself the leader of the resistance, a progressive counter to the Trump administration’s continual assault on the rule of law and the most vulnerable among us.

However, for California to truly lead our nation forward, we need to create a real system of public financing for political campaigns in order to get big money, and the stink of potential corruption, out of our government.Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Disclose Act, a product of a multiyear, comprehensive effort to shine a light on dark money that has invaded our political system. I proudly endorsed the Disclose Act, but we must go further…

Californians can improve our system of government by passing state legislation modeled after the Fair Elections Now Act, which is pending federal legislation supported by Common Cause, Sen. Bernie Sanders and many others. A statewide campaign-finance law should set hard limits on large-dollar donors, offer public financing and establish requirements for candidate participation in debates.

Alex Baiocco

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