SCOTUSblog: Petitions of the week
By James Romoser and Andrew Hamm
Trump v. Knight First Amendment Institute
Issue: Whether the First Amendment deprives a government official of his right to control his personal Twitter account by blocking third-party accounts if he uses that personal account in part to announce official actions and policies.
By Makena Kelly
The Trump administration is considering an unconventional pick for the next FCC commissioner, a senior adviser at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) who has played a significant role in the agency’s social media regulation agenda…
Three sources close to the matter say Nathan Simington, a senior advisor at the NTIA within the commerce department, has emerged as a leading candidate to take over Republican Commissioner Mike O’Rielly’s seat at the FCC.
Simington is said to have helped draft the administration’s social media executive order, and his nomination would be a victory for Republicans who want to see the FCC take a larger role in regulating social networks.
Simington would be a significant break from O’Rielly, who had expressed concerns that Trump’s anti-bias efforts could violate constitutional law. “As a conservative, I’m troubled voices are stifled by liberal tech leaders,” he wrote on Twitter in May, in response to news of Trump’s looming executive order. “At same time, I’m extremely dedicated to First Amendment which governs much here.”
In August, Trump abruptly withdrew O’Rielly’s nomination after the commissioner gave a speech opposing making changes to Section 230.
Online Speech Platforms
Wall Street Journal: Google and Twitter Sharpen Tools to Stop False Claims About Election
By Emily Glazer and Kirsten Grind
Google and Twitter Inc. said they are taking additional steps to tamp down misinformation about the U.S. election, as tech platforms scramble to address an expected flood of false claims and misleading posts ahead of the November vote.
In separate announcements on Thursday, Twitter said it plans to more aggressively label or remove election-related tweets that include disputed or misleading information, while Google said it would screen more auto-complete suggestions to avoid voters being misled…
The changes could affect tweets claiming victory before election results have been certified; posting unverified information about ballot tampering or other matters that could undermine confidence; or including false or misleading information that causes confusion about laws, regulations, officials or institutions related to elections…
In its changes to auto-complete results, which predict what users are searching for, Google will remove predictions “that could be interpreted as claims for or against any candidate or political party,” the company said in a blog post. It also said it would screen out statements about voting methods and requirements, so predictions such as “you can vote by phone” or “you can’t vote by phone” won’t be produced in auto-complete. Users will still be able to search for those topics on their own.
By Ryan Lovelace
A former campaign staffer for Hillary Clinton blaming Big Tech for President Trump’s rise to power has formed a new group pressuring Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies to help dethrone him online in the run-up to the November elections.
The group, Accountable Tech, has demanded sweeping changes at Big Tech companies for the final weeks of the presidential campaign. It wants social media companies to certify “Platform Poll Watchers” to police content and is urging Twitter and Facebook to shut off algorithms that show trending topics and other information currently viewed by users.
Former Clinton campaign foreign affairs spokesperson Jesse Lehrich, who garnered attention during the 2016 campaign for telling Mr. Trump to “go f- yourself,” has enlisted former Facebook engineer Sahar Massachi, former Democratic Federal Election Commission chairwoman Ann Ravel, and a Mozilla vice president, Ashley Boyd, to push for a Big Tech overhaul.
“Ultimately, we need Congress to set clear laws to promote a healthier environment for online political information – but that is not going to happen in the next two months,” Ms. Ravel said in a statement. “In the meantime, social media companies themselves must act responsibly and forcefully to ensure the outcome of the election is not determined by the spread of misinformation.”
Accountable Tech’s ““Election Integrity Roadmap for Social Media Platforms”,” released Thursday, includes specific objectives the liberals want followed before the election.
By Sarah Frier
Facebook has recently re-evaluated its approach to climate misinformation, according to spokesman Andy Stone. The company is working on a climate information center, which will display information from scientific sources. Stone said Facebook isn’t ready to officially announce anything, but it’s easy to imagine what this might look like. Facebook has already devised centers for factual information about Covid-19, and about voting and the upcoming election, both of which it has promoted heavily on its site.
Candidates and Campaigns
Washington Examiner: Outraged Trump demands Biden, Twitter, Facebook pull down troop ad
By Paul Bedard
President Trump, still fuming over much-disputed allegations in an Atlantic article that he disparaged military troops, is demanding that a Biden campaign ad promoting the story be banned on Twitter and Facebook…
Citing a double standard by Twitter and Facebook, the legal counsel for the Trump-Pence campaign called for a “cease and desist” on the digital ad.
Directed to the Biden campaign, but also Twitter chief Jack Dorsey and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Jenna Ellis wrote, “On behalf of Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., President Trump’s principal campaign committee, this letter notifies you that Biden for President (the “Biden Campaign”) produced and caused to be posted on Joe Biden’s Twitter feed a digital ad that contains intentionally false and misleading statements that cannot be verified when it alleges that President Trump made derogatory comments towards fallen American military heroes.” …
“Both Twitter and Facebook have used their policies to remove or flag tweets and postings by President Trump. Now, Twitter and Facebook — if they are truly trying to be fair arbiters of factually accurate statements — will be obligated to remove your False and Misleading Ad, which is based solely on cites to anonymous sources,” said Ellis.
By Kyle Cheney, Natasha Bertrand, and Andrew Desiderio
For months, Americans have been served conflicting pronouncements from the Trump administration and lawmakers about foreign efforts to interfere in the 2020 presidential election – complicating matters for voters seeking a reliable understanding of which countries are actively meddling, and on whose behalf…
On Wednesday, House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) released a whistleblower complaint from a top Homeland Security official that bolstered Democrats’ case that the administration is downplaying Russia’s 2020 activity: Senior Trump appointees had for years sought to censor and suppress evidence of the Kremlin’s malign activities in the United States, said the official, Brian Murphy…
On Thursday, Microsoft announced that Russian government hackers had targeted at least 200 organizations tied to the 2020 presidential election in recent weeks, including SKDKnickerbocker, one of Biden’s chief communications and strategy firms. The target of that attack appeared to be Anita Dunn, the firm’s managing director and a senior Biden campaign adviser, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Russia-linked actors have also pushed narratives about Biden being in cognitive decline and abusing his prior position to advance personal interests.
Wall Street Journal: Russian Hackers Have Targeted 200 Groups Tied to U.S. Election, Microsoft Says
By Dustin Volz
Russian government hackers have targeted at least 200 organizations tied to the 2020 U.S. election in recent weeks, including national and state political parties and political consultants working for both Republicans and Democrats, according to Microsoft Corp.
China has also engaged in cyberattacks against “high-profile individuals” linked to Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s campaign, while Iranian actors have continued targeting personal accounts of people associated with President Trump’s campaign, Microsoft said in a blog post published Thursday…
Most of the attempted intrusions haven’t been successful, and those who were targeted or compromised have been directly notified of the malicious activity…
The Russian actor tracked by Microsoft is affiliated with a military intelligence unit and is the same group that hacked and leaked Democratic emails during the 2016 presidential contest. In addition to political consultants and state and national parties, its recent targets have included advocacy organizations and think tanks, such as the German Marshall Fund, as well as political parties in the U.K., Microsoft said.
MIT Technology Review: Brazil’s “fake news” bill won’t solve its misinformation problem
By Raphael Tsavkko Garcia
Brazil is grappling with a crisis of misinformation…
But the “fake news” bill (officially the Brazilian Law on Freedom, Responsibility and Transparency on the Internet) is, in my view, the worst possible way to combat the problem. It could be one of the most restrictive internet laws in the world…
Why wouldn’t the bill achieve its intended aim? To start, it is vague on the matter of what’s considered fake news, which it describes as false or deceptive content shared with the potential to cause individual or collective harm. This ambiguity leaves it to the state to decide what kind of content is considered false or potentially harmful, and could allow those in power to manipulate the definition for political gain…
Perhaps the worst thing about the bill, though, is that it reverses one of the greatest advances brought about by the Marco Civil. According to that law, platforms are not responsible for content posted by users and must remove such content only if a court order specifies what crime or illegal act was committed. In contrast, the new bill makes social platforms responsible for everything published on them. This will lead them to aggressively remove content that might displease the government, and they will police users for improper posts.
Real Clear Foundation: An Open Letter to Our Fellow American Citizens
We stand at the crossroads.
Over the next several years, the noble sentiments and ideas that gave birth to the United States will either be repudiated or reaffirmed. The fateful choice before us will result either in the death of a grand hope or a recommitment to an extraordinary political experiment whose full flowering we have yet to realize…
In the name of justice and equality, those animated by contempt and despair seek to destroy longstanding but fragile American institutions through which justice and equality can be secured…
In the face of this threat, the American institutions we must now reaffirm are these:
-Free speech. Too many of our media outlets have become shameful caricatures intent on purveying one-sided narratives rather than on wrestling with difficult issues about which reasonable citizens will disagree. They inflame rather than inform. They contort public debate rather than contribute to it. Rather than defend freedom of speech and association, they have become instruments of a despicable “cancel culture,” bereft of forgiveness and intolerant of opposing views…
-Federalism. Our country is diverse. We cannot produce a unity amidst diversity by forcing all citizens to fit the singular mold that politically correct speech imposes. A diverse polity can exist only within the framework of federalism, which allows true pluralism to thrive.
Courthouse News: Texas State Bar Defies Attorney General on Anti-Bias Rule
By David Lee
The State Bar of Texas refused Thursday to kill consideration of an anti-bias rule by the American Bar Association, ignoring repeated warnings by Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton that the rule is vague and infringes attorneys’ free speech and religious rights.
The State Bar’s board of directors approved referring the Model Rule 8.4(g) to an internal committee for further review after seven hours of public debate and closed session discussions during a virtual meeting on Zoom…
The rule deems it professional misconduct for a lawyer to “engage in conduct that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is harassment or discrimination on the basis of … sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or socioeconomic status in conduct” relating to practicing law…
Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, also urged the board to not adopt the model rule and “rubber stamp” an ABA proposal that he says burdens free speech.
“I appreciate the bar’s desire to promote racial and other types of equality, but moving forward with 8.4(g) would fail to achieve those goals,” he said Thursday. “It would be challenged immediately in court. I suspect the same plaintiffs who challenged the integrated bar will line up for an encore suit. And the Texas attorney general, who ruled the proposal unconstitutional, has hinted he will file suit as well.”
By Lisa Newcomb
Connecticut’s statewide small-dollar donor program has resulted in more competitive races, allowed new voices to get elected, and led to better government policies, according to a report released Thursday by advocacy group Common Cause.
“The small-dollar donor experiment in Connecticut is working and the state has become a national model,” Beth Rotman, national director of money in politics and ethics for Common Cause and author of the report, said in a statement…
The Citizens’ Election Program (CEP), enacted in 2008, is a voluntary program in which candidates for statewide and state legislative offices must agree to fundraising and spending restrictions and demonstrate public support by raising between $5,000 and $250,000-depending on the office sought-from small-dollar donors. Those contributions can be between $5 and $100 each. Once those conditions are met, candidates receive grant money from the program, which is funded primarily from the sale of abandoned property in the state’s custody.
By Jessica Farrish
The bill, which a group of West Virginia legislators are expected to introduce in Charleston in January, aims to break the “cycle of legalized corruption” in U.S. government that was identified in a 2014 study by researchers from Princeton University and Northwestern University, which found that from 2009 to 2014, the 200 most politically active companies in the U.S. spent $5.8 billion influencing the government with lobbying and campaign contributions.
Those same companies got $4.4 trillion in taxpayer support – earning a return of 750 times their investment, the study found…
Under the “West Virginia Can’t Wait to End the Buying of Elections” plan, lobbyists would be charged a fee. The fee would fund public elections in all state races, and out-of-state lobbyists would pay the “lion’s share.”
The plan caps self-funding by all candidates at $1,000 and requires all candidates and lawmakers to submit income tax filings and to post their donor lists publicly in their offices and on legislature websites…
The plan also calls for a lifetime ban on lobbyists becoming legislators. And it would make it illegal for a legislator to serve as a lobbyist.