Daily Media Links 5/16

May 16, 2022   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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The Courts

Politico: Tech groups ask Justice Alito to stay Texas social media law

By Rebecca Kern and Brendan Bordelon

Two technology trade associations are petitioning Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito for an emergency stay to block a Texas law that prohibits large social media companies from censoring users based on their “viewpoints.”

While the law was passed last year, a federal judge had blocked it from taking effect, ruling that it violated the First Amendment. On Wednesday, an appeals court overturned that stay and the law went into force.

Wall Street Journal: My Lawsuit Will Shine a Light on Twitter Censorship

By Alex Berenson

Do social-media companies collude with the federal government to suppress speech? On April 29, Judge William Alsup issued a ruling in a case I brought against Twitter that could become a watershed in holding social-media companies accountable for censorship.

Candidates and Campaigns

New York Times: The Little Red Boxes Making a Mockery of Campaign Finance Laws

By Shane Goldmacher

From Oregon to Texas, North Carolina to Pennsylvania, Democratic candidates nationwide are using such red boxes to pioneer new frontiers in soliciting and directing money from friendly super PACs financed by multimillionaires, billionaires and special-interest groups.

Campaign watchdogs complain that the practice further blurs the lines meant to keep big-money interests from influencing people running for office, effectively evading the strict donation limits imposed on federal candidates. And while the tactic is not new to 2022, it is becoming so widespread that a New York Times survey of candidate websites found at least 19 Democrats deploying some version of a red box in four of the states holding contested congressional primaries on Tuesday.

Donor Privacy

Newsmax: Santorum: Threat of Weaponized Left Against Freedom Remains

By Rick Santorum

Our nation cannot act as a functioning republic if her people are afraid of political payback, whether it be from those in the community, their employers, or their government.

Weaponizing the government for their purposes is what the left does, not what conservatives do, but now some on the right are seeking to “out” donors of liberal causes. I appreciate their frustration with liberal “dark money,” but conservatives’ ends of exposing a liberal agenda does not justify their means.

As damaging as Lerner’s campaign against conservative donors and advocacy groups was a decade ago, the repercussions today can be so much greater.

The use of social media, and the variety of social media platforms now online, has expanded exponentially and their use to demonize anyone or any group for their work has the real potential to silence speech at a time when we need more voices, not less.

While conservatives have warmed to the idea of chilling free speech, liberals have continued their campaign against conservative donors and groups through the introduction of hypocritically titled legislation like the “For the People Act” and the “DISCLOSE Act.”

And in the Biden administration, there is continued pressure for additional regulations to bring “transparency” to nonprofits and their donors.

The legacy of Lois Lerner lives on.

Free Expression

Bloomberg: CEOs Feel the GOP Squeeze for Weighing In on Social Issues

By Jeff Green

Not that long ago, corporate executives had a single thing to worry about: profit. It was the raison d’etre, and it largely determined a company’s stock price, its ability to pay out dividends, and its longevity as a going concern. The public lionized old-school business leaders such as General Electric Co.’s Jack Welch not because of their winning personalities or social media savvy, but because they could reliably deliver growing profits year after year.

No longer. For today’s chief executive officers, the traditional financial metrics such as earnings and return on investment are being eclipsed in the boardroom and society by the demand to satisfy constituencies or take a stand on issues like abortion, global warming, and racial and gender equity. There’s long been that pressure from Democrats and liberals. But as the Republican Party has evolved from a body focused on tax cuts and less regulation into one driven by identity politics and White grievance, the pressure on businesses to pick sides will only grow.

Wall Street Journal: How Disagreement Became ‘Disinformation’

By Barton Swaim

One of the great ironies of American political life in the 2020s is that the people most exercised about the spread of false information are frequently peddlers of it. Their lack of self-understanding arises from the belief that the primary factor separating their side from the other side isn’t ideology, principle or moral vision but information—raw data requiring no interpretation and no argument over its importance. It is a hopelessly simpleminded worldview—no one apprehends reality without the aid of interpretive lenses. And it is a dangerous one.

Online Speech Platforms

Washington Post: Musk doesn’t own Twitter yet, but conservatives are racking up followers

By Cat Zakrzewski, Naomi Nix, Jeremy B. Merrill and Madison Dong

A Washington Post analysis of hundreds of Twitter accounts found that right-leaning accounts, including Republican members of Congress, received a surge in followers since the deal was announced last month, even as their Democratic counterparts’ followings flatlined…

Several high-profile conservative users baselessly attributed the sudden boost to the company treating conservatives’ accounts differently the instant the Musk deal was announced. (Twitter declined to comment on the claims but has previously said that it does not make content moderation decisions based on political ideology.)

“While I’m awesome and totally deserving of 87,000 new followers a day it seems that someone took the shackles off my account. Wonder if they’re burning the evidence before new mgmt comes in?” tweeted Donald Trump Jr. Similarly, Carlson’s show suggested that Musk had “restored” free speech to network, reactivating his previously suspended account.

The Hill: Musk’s free speech takeover of Twitter won’t necessarily mean freer speech

By Trevor Burrus and Nicole Saad Bembridge

Another major change Musk proposes is to “authenticate all human users” in service of his broader goal to ban all bots from Twitter. Though it is not yet clear exactly what he means by “authenticate,” the process will likely require collecting some form of personally identifiable information. If enacted, this policy could seriously undermine and chill free speech on Twitter, especially for marginalized groups and political dissidents who rely on their ability to remain anonymous. 

Twitter can’t reveal information that it does not possess, but if Musk moves forward with “authenticating all real humans,” Twitter will carry more of its users’ personally identifiable information, which will make it a bigger target for powerful actors seeking to unmask their critics. Since its founding, Twitter has aggressively defended the privacy rights of its users from private and public actors. In this way, the platform has emulated First Amendment jurisprudence, which offers robust protection for anonymous political speech in most circumstances. If Musk wants to promote free speech on Twitter, he should take care to avoid undermining the platform’s established free speech tradition.

Tiffany Donnelly

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