Daily Media Links 9/1

September 1, 2020   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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The Courts

Associated Press: Judge upholds Montana political spending disclosure rule

By Amy Beth Hanson

A federal judge on Monday upheld an executive order by Montana’s governor that requires companies to report political spending if they want to bid on large state contracts.

U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell ruled the Illinois Opportunity Project does not have the legal standing to challenge Gov. Steve Bullock’s 2018 order, which requires reporting of contributions even to so-called dark money groups…

Lovell had dismissed the complaint in January due to lack of standing, but gave the Illinois Opportunity Project another chance to prove the executive order would cause it to suffer an actual or imminent, as opposed to hypothetical, loss of a legally protected right.

Daniel Suhr of the Liberty Justice Center, who argued for the Illinois Opportunity Project, said during Thursday’s hearing that one of the organization’s donors was a multi-state corporation that had operations in Montana and has had contracts with the state. However, the state said it knew of no such corporation and the Illinois Opportunity Project did not identify the company, Lovell wrote.

The Popehat Report: Lawsplainer: Sarah Palin’s Defamation Claim Against The New York Times Can Go To Trial

By Ken White

Sarah Palin, the former governor and vice-presidential candidate who seems almost Solomonic in retrospect, has won an important victory in her defamation case against the New York Times and editor James Bennet. United States District Judge Jed Rakoff has rejected the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, permitting her claim to proceed to trial unless the parties settle. But Rakoff also rejected Palin’s demand that he dial back defamation law by a half-century.

The case arises from a sloppily written and edited New York Times editorial published in June 2017. The editorial originally suggested that insane gunman Jared Lee Loughner was motivated to shoot Representative Gabrielle Giffords by Palin’s PAC, which circulated a graphic showing her district (and others) emblazoned with cross-hairs to show they were targets for Republican victory. That suggestion was untrue; there was ample evidence contradicting it and no evidence supporting it. By this ruling, Judge Rakoff found that Palin has presented admissible evidence from which a jury could conceivably find that the defendants acted with actual malice, and therefore the case can go to trial.

There are many issues of interest here for both lawyers and non-lawyers, but I’ll focus this lawsplainer of just three: actual malice, summary judgment, and the rather ominous scope of Palin’s call to change the law. 

Courthouse News: Detroit Police

 Black protesters in Detroit claim in a federal lawsuit that police in the city brutalize Black demonstrators with teargas, chokeholds and other tactics but don’t even attempt to break up protests led by white supremacists.


ABC News: Barr’s removal of career national security official, weeks before election, raises concerns

By Mike Levine

Current and former national security officials are raising concerns over Attorney General William Barr’s recent decision to remove the head of a Justice Department office that helps ensure federal counterterrorism and counterintelligence activities are legal – and replace him with a political appointee with relatively limited experience…

The timing of the personnel change – coming just two months before the U.S. presidential election, and in the midst of a battle against domestic terrorism and foreign interference in the election – has worried current and former members of the national security community.


Reason: ‘Who Funds the Rioters?’ Is Not a Question the Federal Government Needs To Ask

By Robby Soave

First, the notion that the violent protests cropping up in U.S. cities are funded by a secret, shadowy cabal is a myth. Conspiracy theorists on all sides of the political spectrum like to imagine that their enemies are financed by some secret puppetmaster but, in general, people who show up to protests are usually not paid actors. People engaged in militant, far-left activism may travel from city to city, and they may be loosely connected with other activists in a semi-organized fashion, but they probably aren’t sitting on some secret pile of money.

Second, a mandate to monitor and investigate protest groups would give the federal government frightening license to target not just dangerous activists but also mere political opponents of the administration. Open-ended investigations into alleged funding sources-absent any evidence of larger financial crimes-strikes me as exactly the kind of witch hunt that many Republican critics of the deep state purport to oppose when the target is either Trump or a pro-Trump figure. If specific activists are arrested for violence, looting, or rioting, it may be appropriate-on a case by case basis-for law enforcement to ask questions about their specific circumstances. But any open-ended probe would pose a serious concern on civil libertarians grounds.


Courthouse News: Poll: Most Say Trust in News Media Can Be Improved

By David Wells

While less than half of Americans say they have confidence in journalists, a new Pew Research Center survey found that three-quarters of U.S. adults are still open to having their trust in the media improve.

According to the findings released Monday, 52% of respondents have either little or no faith in journalists, compared to 48% who have either a fair or great deal of confidence.

While the survey found that 61% of Americans expected the news they get to be truthful, 69% thought that news organizations tried to hide or cover up their mistakes…

Seventy-two percent of those surveyed said news organizations do a poor job of disclosing where their money comes from and 80% think the news they receive is influenced at least partially by corporate and financial interests…

The survey found that 55% of respondents think the media does an insufficient job of saying if a news story is opinion or factual, and 60% said the media does a bad job of disclosing conflicts of interests.


NCSLPolitical Digital Ads: Disclosure, Free Speech and Legislation Webinar

Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020/2 p.m. ET/ 1 p.m. CT/Noon MT/11 a.m. PT

Learn about the current state of digital campaign ads, including how global entities such as Facebook, Twitter and Google are adapting to different states’ requirements. The speakers will present different perspectives on ensuring free speech while maintaining transparency.


-Mandy Zoch, policy specialist, NCSL Elections and Redistricting Program


-Ronald Jacobs, Digital Advertising Alliance

-David Voorman, Americans for Prosperity

-Jared DeMarinis, Maryland State Board of Elections

[RSVP here]

Online Speech Platforms

Washington Post: Twitter deletes claim minimizing coronavirus death toll, which Trump retweeted

By Brittany Shammas and Meryl Kornfield

After President Trump retweeted a claim that discounted the coronavirus death toll in the United States over the weekend, Twitter took down the post that spread false information…

It was copied from a Facebook post and claimed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had “quietly updated the Covid number to admit that only 6%” of reported deaths – or about 9,000 – “actually died from Covid.”

The rest were people who “had 2-3 other serious illnesses,” said the tweet, which has since been replaced with a message saying it “is no longer available because it violated the Twitter Rules.” A Twitter spokesperson said the tweet violated the company’s coronavirus misinformation policy.

The claim appears to be a reference to the CDC’s Wednesday update to its death data and resources page, which noted that in 6 percent of reported deaths, covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, “was the only cause mentioned.”

However, that does not mean only 6 percent of reported deaths are attributed to the virus – it means 94 percent of people had at least one additional factor contributing to their deaths.

Politico: Twitter changing labeling practices after deceptive videos hit Biden

By Cristiano Lima

Twitter said Monday it will begin displaying warning labels on shared posts that contain misleading or doctored videos after facing complaints that it failed to do enough to limit the spread of deceptive clips targeting Joe Biden’s campaign.

The social network in recent days has slapped labels on tweets by prominent Republican officials that contained deceptively edited or altered videos, including posts by House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of LouisianaWhite House social media director Dan Scavino and the reelection campaign for President Donald Trump.

On Monday, the Trump campaign tweeted a truncated clip of Biden saying, “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” The clip was in fact from a speech in which Biden said Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were making that argument. The full quote from the speech: “Trump and Pence are running on this, and I find it fascinating: Quote, ‘You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.’ And what’s their proof? The violence we’re seeing in Donald Trump’s America.”

Twitter later added a “manipulated media” label to the tweet.

Until now, the labels did not appear when users shared the posts through what the platform calls “quote tweets “- retweets with added comment from another user…

The company earlier this year announced it would begin labeling and in some cases removing tweets “containing synthetic and manipulated media” – part of an effort to curb viral misinformation on the platform ahead of the 2020 elections

TechCrunch: Facebook partially documents its content recommendation system

By Sarah Perez

Algorithmic recommendation systems on social media sites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have shouldered much of the blame for the spread of misinformation, propaganda, hate speech, conspiracy theories and other harmful content. Facebook, in particular, has come under fire in recent days for allowing QAnon conspiracy groups to thrive on its platform and for helping militia groups to scale membership. Today, Facebook is attempting to combat claims that its recommendation systems are at any way at fault for how people are exposed to troubling, objectionable, dangerous, misleading and untruthful content.

The company has, for the first time, made public how its content recommendation guidelines work.

In new documentation available in Facebook’s Help Center and Instagram’s Help Center, the company details how Facebook and Instagram’s algorithms work to filter out content, accounts, Pages, Groups and Events from its recommendations.

Protocol: Facebook’s new research project will show how it influenced the 2020 election – after it’s over

By Issie Lapowsky

Facebook is teaming up with academics across the country to determine once and for all whether Facebook is in fact influencing the 2020 election. The only catch: They won’t know the answer until well after it’s over.

The new research project, which Facebook announced Monday, will study how the 2020 election is playing out on the world’s largest social network, and how the platform affects things like political polarization, voter participation, trust in democracy and the spread of misinformation. A 17-person research team, which includes leading academics in the fields of media and politics, will work with some two dozen Facebook staffers to design the experiments…

The findings, which Facebook will have no veto power over, will be published for free to the public beginning next summer.

Wall Street Journal: Facebook Says It Will Bar News Sharing in Australia if Proposed Payment Rules Become Law

By Mike Cherney

Facebook Inc. has threatened to stop allowing Australians to share news on its site and on Instagram if lawmakers allow media companies to demand payment from digital platforms.

The States

Reason (Volokh Conspiracy): Trying to Unseal Affidavit and Block Pseudonymity in Cincinnati Police Officer Libel Case

By Eugene Volokh

Here is an excerpt (you can also read the whole petition, and this post with the backstory):

On July 22, 2020, a Cincinnati police officer filed a complaint in the [Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas] under the pseudonym “M.R.” against five named defendants, and “John Does #1-20,” asserting multiple tort claims, including claims for false light invasion of privacy and defamation arising out statements allegedly made by the defendants on social media and in complaints filed with the Cincinnati Citizens Complaint Authority (“CCA”) ….

M.R. is a Cincinnati police officer and therefore a “public figure” under Ohio law. Soke v. The Plain Dealer, 632 N.E.2d 1282, 1284 (Ohio 1994) (“The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that police officers are public officials.”). As a public official, M.R.’s interest in hiding his identity from the public, while using public resources to obtain private relief, is non-existent, particularly when weighed against the public’s interest in knowing the identity of the plaintiff in this case, and the sworn allegations he has relied on to seek an order restraining the speech of private citizens.  This is especially so when the allegations in the complaint concern the performance of his official duties.

Tiffany Donnelly

Tiffany Donnelly


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