Daily Media Links 6/13: Making Google the Censor, Comcast shareholders reject lobby disclosure resolution for the fourth straight year, and more…

June 13, 2017   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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Free Speech

ProPublica: Trump’s Not the Only One Blocking Constituents on Twitter

By Charles Ornstein

As President Donald Trump faces criticism for blocking users on his Twitter account, people across the country say they, too, have been cut off by elected officials at all levels of government after voicing dissent on social media…

The growing combat over social media is igniting a new-age legal debate over whether losing this form of access to public officials violates constituents’ First Amendment rights to free speech and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Those who’ve been blocked say it’s akin to being thrown out of a town hall meeting for holding up a protest sign…

Practically speaking, being blocked cuts off constituents from many forms of interacting with public officials. On Facebook, it means no posts, no likes and no questions or comments during live events on the page of the blocker. Even older posts that may not be offensive are taken down. On Twitter, being blocked prevents a user from seeing the other person’s tweets on his or her timeline.

Moreover, while Twitter and Facebook themselves usually suspend account holders only temporarily for breaking rules, many elected officials don’t have established policies for constituents who want to be reinstated.

New York Times: Making Google the Censor

By Daphne Keller

The fears and frustrations behind these proposals are understandable. But making private companies curtail user expression in important public forums – which is what platforms like Twitter and Facebook have become – is dangerous. The proposed laws would harm free expression and information access for journalists, political dissidents and ordinary users…

Moving this responsibility from state to private actors also eliminates key legal protections for internet users. Private-platform owners are not constrained by the First Amendment or human rights law the way the police or courts are. Users most likely have no remedy if companies are heavy-handed or sloppy in erasing speech. Governments that outsource speech control to private companies can effectively achieve censorship by proxy…

Outraged demands for “platform responsibility” are a muscular-sounding response to terrorism that shifts public attention from the governments’ duties. But we don’t want an internet where private platforms police every word at the behest of the state. Such power over public discourse would be Orwellian in the hands of any government, be it Ms. May’s, Donald Trump’s or Vladimir Putin’s.

National Review: To Both Sides in America’s Dialogue War: Disarm

By Max Bloom

For a decade, America’s elite culture has been marked by a growing willingness to persecute people for private remarks and personal opinions that fall outside contemporary speech norms. The examples are numerous and familiar, many of them high-profile. The signal case is probably Brendan Eich’s forced resignation from Mozilla in 2014 after it became public that he had donated $1,000 to support Proposition 8 in California…

The curious turn in the free-speech wars, then, is that the Left, too, has begun to suffer casualties. A blizzard of cases over the past week suggests that the remonstrative tone in American speech has escaped the bounds of the university hall and the Twitter feed. First, Kathy Griffin lost endorsements after posting a video of her holding a representation of Donald Trump’s severed head. Then, Reza Aslan was dropped by CNN after calling Trump a “piece of s***” on Twitter. Most recently, Delta and Bank of America both dropped their sponsorships of Shakespeare in the Park after the production’s Julius Caesar clearly analogized the Roman tyrant to, of course, Trump…

Now, then, may be a good time for disarmament… The era is over, we could say, when the bad quip, the inartful performance, or the indiscreet donation will lose you your job, your standing, and destroy your life.


CPI: Comcast shareholders reject lobby disclosure resolution for the fourth straight year

By Blake Dodge

Comcast Corp. shareholders have for the fourth time rejected a proposal that would require the cable giant to report how much money it spends lobbying state legislatures and local governments.

The resolution, offered at Comcast’s online annual shareholders meeting Thursday, also would have required the company, a heavy lobbying spender in state capitals, to report its membership in and donations to trade associations and tax-exempt organizations that lobby at the state and local level…

This year, shareholders at 52 companies – including AT&T Inc., IBM Corp. and Facebook Inc. – filed lobbying disclosure resolutions, according to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest trade union of public employees.

Of those, shareholders have voted on 35. On average, 27.3 percent of shareholders voted for more disclosure, which is up from the 25 percent of shareholders that voted for the disclosure proposals in 2016. Almost 99 percent have failed since 2012, according to the Harvard Law School.

Independent Groups

Brennan Center: Avoiding the Seduction of the Dark Side

By Ciara Torres-Spelliscy

Dark money may seem like a satisfying expedient response to the current political crisis, but it corrodes democracy.

Dark money is not a good way finance elections and I won’t change that belief no matter which side is winning…

So why is dark money becoming a feature and not a bug in American elections? Because it has become institutionalized through law. And Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is the Lord Darth Vader of dark money.

What? You mean you haven’t seen McConnell prowling the halls of the Capitol in a black cape and breathing mechanically? Let’s just take one case, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). There has been a longstanding SEC petition asking for greater disclosure of corporate dark money. But Vader, uh, McConnell, has consistently added riders to the federal budget blocking the SEC from adopting a dark money rule. He’s likely to try this tactic again this summer, when Congress crafts the new budget.

Citizens United

Truth-Out: Call for Congress to Overturn “Citizens United” Through Amendment Picks Up Steam

By Mark Karlin

Late last month, Nevada became the 19th state to call for Congress to overturn the Supreme Court’sCitizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. This would be accomplished through a constitutional amendment process..

Amid the tumult and reality-TV-style coverage of the Trump presidency, we have not heard a lot about corporate personhood and excessive and unaccountable campaign spending lately. Trump, however, has proved through his appointments, choice of advisers and deregulation-oriented actions that he is a believer that corporations often have more rights than people.

Let us work to educate more states about the need to side with democracy and not big money. There should be as much concern about how the Koch brothers and their plutocratic buddies influence elections as there is about the question of Russia’s involvement in the last presidential contest.

The Media

Slate: When the Nazis Come Marching In

By Dahlia Lithwick  

For the first time in a lifetime of journalism, I was also afraid to wear my press credentials because today, in this town, they might invite punching.

Last week, I had come to a place where I was thinking-if not saying aloud-that maybe it was time for me and the First Amendment to see other people. It’s not me, to be sure, it’s the First Amendment-or at least what’s become of it. I am weary of hate speech, wary of threats, and tired of the choice between punching back and acquiescing…

It is ever more clear to me that the free press-which exists, to make an obvious point, because of the First Amendment-is the enemy of the white supremacists who keep talking about free speech…

But to guarantee an escape from conflict, from violence, requires censorship. To have free speech in this moment, when the stakes are so high, is to live with fear. This is not an easy thing to confront-or to accept. If everyone had just stayed home last Wednesday in Charlottesville, there would have been no need to be afraid. There would also have been no dialogue.

The States

WAMU Radio Washington, DC: If Money Could Talk: What Do Local Campaign Finance Rules Say About Our Politics?

By Kojo Nnamdi

From Montgomery County’s strict new limits to campaign funding to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s fines for illegal donations, campaign financing remains a major issue in the region. Advocates of campaign finance reform argue that it levels the electoral playing field and curbs corporate influence, while opponents say it limits free speech of donors. We discuss the impact of donations on D.C. and Maryland politics and the gap in fundraising between Virginia’s gubernatorial candidates.

Alex Baiocco

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