Tag Archive for: SocialMediaCensorship

The Economist Whose Theory Predicted Today’s Calls for Censorship in the 1970s

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

Nobel Prize-winning economist Ronald Coase wrote a paper in 1974 that implicitly predicted the increasing popularity of censorship among the intellectual class.

 

After Elon Musk’s offer to purchase Twitter was accepted, the Department of Homeland Security unveiled plans for a “disinformation” governance board. Musk’s purchase is not final, and the governance board is now paused, but the reaction to these events has been telling.

One might expect professionals in the market for ideas would be concerned by a government agency policing speech. Curiously, many groups who historically have defended free speech against interference seem slow (or absent) in response.

Members of the journalism industry have reacted negatively to Musk’s vocal support of free speech. His purchase is “dangerous,” and his commitment to free speech will lead to people being “silenced”.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press attacked Musk for wanting free speech, claiming that this desire was inconsistent with the fact that he has criticized people in the past.

This claim by the AP confused many, as criticism is obviously compatible with free speech.

Time magazine voiced opposition to Musk from another angle, trying to disparage his “tech bro” obsession with free speech

CNN writers crafted the suggestive headline, “Twitter has been focused on ‘healthy conversations.’ Elon Musk could change that”.

At The Conversation, Filippo Menczer, a professor of informatics and computer science at Indiana University, argues John Milton’s idea of the uncensored marketplace of ideas is outdated and calls for “refereeing” of social media. And of course, this refereeing isn’t censorship. Why would you think that?

Another professor writing for The ConversationJaigris Hudson, argues Elon Musk’s free speech push will make speech less free because if harsh language is allowed some people will stop talking. This article when set next to this Washington Post piece and the AP tweet underscores a consistent theme of mistaking free speech for freedom from criticism.

Head bureaucrat of the government’s “paused” disinformation board, Nina Jankowicz, also wishes Twitter would move in another direction. Jankowicz wonders, why not allow verified accounts to edit the Tweets of people using free speech too dangerously?

Although it isn’t uncommon for high-level military bureaucrats like Jankowicz to desire censorship, academics and journalists have long been stalwart defenders of the importance of an uncensored marketplace for ideas. For a long time, universities and newspapers were seen as places where controversial means and ends could be debated publicly. “The truth will out” was the final defense of these institutions against calls for censorship.

This defense of the marketplace of ideas was so universal among the professional intellectual class that it inspired Nobel Prize-winning economist Ronald Coase (1910-2013) to write a paper trying to explain why this was so. And, using this same paper, we can see Coase implicitly predicted the increasing favorability of censorship among the professional intellectual class.

In a 1974 paper, Coase, the Clifton R. Musser Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago Law School, mused over an interesting puzzle. Professional intellectuals focus tremendous effort in highlighting why the market for goods and services requires regulation. Meanwhile, those same intellectuals often argued that the market for ideas should be free from regulation.

So, why the asymmetry?

To answer this puzzle, Coase first dismissed two popular but wrong explanations for this paradox.

The first explanation is that markets for goods and services can have market failures. For example, if gasoline buyers and sellers don’t have to pay for the pollution gasoline generates, they will buy and sell too much at the expense of those who experience pollution.

However, the problem with this explanation is obvious. There can also be failures in the market for ideas. Even if it’s correct that the best idea will win, it’s obvious that the best idea won’t always win immediately. Pollution in the market for ideas, such as disinformation, is also possible.

In other words, the market for ideas also has market failures. On this criteria, both types of markets should be regulated–or neither.

The second wrong explanation for why professional intellectuals defend the market for ideas from regulation is that unregulated speech is necessary for a functioning democracy. This explanation sounds okay at first, so what’s wrong with it?

Well, the market for goods and services is also necessary for a functioning democracy. As Coase puts it,

For most people in most countries (and perhaps in all countries), the provision of food, clothing, and shelter is a good deal more important than the provision of the “right ideas,” even if it is assumed that we know what they are.

So good ideas being necessary for a functioning democracy can’t be an explanation for why the market for ideas should be unregulated, since professional intellectuals favor regulation for goods and services which are also necessary for a functioning democracy.

The asymmetry remains.

Coase finishes his essay by solving the paradox. Why do professional intellectuals defend the market for ideas against regulation but not the market for goods and services?

The market for ideas is the market in which the intellectual conducts his trade. The explanation of the paradox is self-interest and self-esteem. Self-esteem leads the intellectuals to magnify the importance of their own market. That others should be regulated seems natural, particularly as many of the intellectuals see themselves as doing the regulating.

So, the market for ideas is the market controlled by intellectuals. They see their market as a higher and more important calling. The market for goods and services, in their view, is both less important and more corrupted.

So how does Coase’s explanation here predict the increasing calls for censorship in the market for ideas?

Remember the explanation Coase gave. Professional intellectuals considered the market for ideas as above regulation because they controlled the market.

But times have changed since Coase wrote his article in 1974.

The internet has revolutionized the landscape of the market for ideas. It’s no longer the case that the well-credentialed have the most sway in the ideas market. Recent years have been characterized by creators on YouTube, podcasts, and, most recently, Substack dominating the market for ideas.

Now that the market for ideas is no longer dominated by academia and the journalism industry, members of those groups no longer have the same incentives to stop industry regulation.

In fact, as in many industries, it may be in incumbents’ best interest to regulate competition. After all, if people get their new commentary from Joe Rogan and not CNN, that hurts CNN’s bottom line.

So, although Coase did not foresee the decentralization of the market of ideas in his piece, the logic of his paper gives a clear prediction. If the ones who hold the reins to the market for ideas lose their grip, calls for regulation are sure to follow. And this is exactly what we’re seeing.

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This article was published by FEE, Foundation for Economic Education and is reproduced with permission.

Weekend Read: The Threat to Liberty is Coming from Inside the House

Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes

You might be, as I am, alarmed about the future of liberty. How deep are the roots of liberty when so many submit to authoritarian measures in response to COVID, and approve the use of coercion against those less eager to comply? Unable to visualize alternatives, public acceptance of top-down coercive solutions to COVID demonstrates a willingness to sacrifice liberty for the promise of safety.

To restore liberty, our understanding of liberty needs to deepen.

The prolific author and educator Leonard Read is most famous for his timeless essay “I, Pencil.” In one of his earlier works, Students of Liberty, based on a 1950 talk he delivered to economics students at the University of Pittsburgh, Read clarifies in simple terms what liberty is and the mindset that must be restored. Read writes, “Liberty— the absence of coercion or violence— is not readily comprehended.” He explains that the absence of coercion and violence is not readily comprehended because “relatively few among those who have lived on this earth have been able to visualize any order in society, or any progress by those who compose it, except as the will of some has been imposed on the actions of others.”

Tellingly, Read adds, “History, for the most part, is a record of violence. Present-day talk and writing— history in the making— for the most part is an argument for the rearrangement of the rules of violence.”

History is being made not merely by governments and bureaucrats but by our fellow Americans. The results of this Rasmussen poll conducted earlier this year reveal a readiness of the American public to rearrange the “rules of violence:”

59 percent of Democratic voters would favor a government policy requiring that citizens remain confined to their homes at all times, except for emergencies, if they refuse to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Nearly half (48 percent) of Democratic voters think federal and state governments should be able to fine or imprison individuals who publicly question the efficacy of the existing COVID-19 vaccines on social media, television, radio, or in online or digital publications.”

45 percent of Democrats would favor governments requiring citizens to temporarily live in designated facilities or locations if they refuse to get a COVID-19 vaccine

47 percent of Democrats favor a government tracking program for those who won’t get the COVID-19 vaccine.

29 percent of Democratic voters would support temporarily removing parents’ custody of their children if parents refuse to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

To be sure, a clear majority of all likely voters oppose these measures. Yet, a terrifying wind justifying violence is blowing, a wind that an alarming number of voters of all stripes are welcoming.

Having aroused primitive fears, Dr. Fauci, Bill Gates, presidents, and governors, supported by mainstream news and social media censorship, purported to assume responsibility for our health decisions. People felt relieved from the burden of exploring what they can do to boost their immune system and sustain their health. Read explores the consequences of outsourcing personal responsibility:

Once the reliance on self is removed, once the responsibility for a portion of our being has been assumed by another — be that other a person, a set of persons, or the police force—we cease to think about or apply our ingenuity to the activities thus transferred. When the agency to which the transfer is made is the state, an agency of coercion, is it any wonder that creative thought diminishes to near non-existence?

We become convinced that there are no other solutions, so we stop looking for them. Read explains, “Creative thought is abandoned by man as a free and thus a creative agent and assumed by man as an agent of coercion. Coercion, by its nature, is incapable of creativeness.” No wonder, with the government in charge, top-down coercive solutions are prioritized, and efforts to discover effective treatments for COVID are actively thwarted.

If you are tired of being on the defense opposing endless coercive measures or want “less talk and more action,” Read’s Students of Liberty is a balm for your liberty-minded soul. Yet, this is not a call to organize and elect the right people.

The movie When a Stranger Calls provides a metaphor that exposes the human tendency to see our problems as far removed from where they really are. In the movie, the psychotic killer calling the babysitter was not far away; the calls were coming from inside the house. The real threat to liberty and the means to restore liberty are closer than we think.

Love vs. Violence

The Rasmussen poll results may trigger a defense response: to bloody hell with those who would trample on our rights. Think again. Some of those with illiberal views are our family members, colleagues, and neighbors. Read points us to a fundamental fact of human existence—humanity is interdependent. He writes that our “existence on this earth beyond a primitive state requires a recognition of this fact and a knowledge of how to deal with it skillfully.”

Read observes, “How to deal with it [interdependence] skillfully is where divergence of opinion in social affairs originates.” He continues, “This divergence takes the shape of two diametrically opposed recommendations. One commends life in accordance with the principle of violence. The other commends life in accordance with the principle of love.”

When we think of violence, we think of criminals or governments waging wars. Read asks us to broaden our understanding of violence and reflect on the many ways we support violence. Mandating funding government programs we don’t support with our tax dollars is an act of violence. Violence includes actions taken to prevent people from making peaceful decisions as to how to use their energy and property.

Read is clear: “The cause of our ills is a reliance on the principle of violence. Violence breeds violence. The more of it we practice, the more of it will we rationalize as justified— even ‘needed.’” 

Will the path our country is going down lead to the violent horrors we are witnessing today in Shanghai, where over 25 million people are trapped in their apartments with little food?

Read writes, “The alternative to violence is love.” Of course, he is not referring to romantic love. Instead, he recognizes the virtues of love:

Love, as here used, refers to the application of the kindly virtues in human relations such as tolerance, charity, good sportsmanship, the right of another to his views, integrity, the practice of not doing to others what you would not have them do to you, and other attributes which result in mutual trust, voluntary cooperation, and justice.

“Love prospers only in liberty.” Read continues,

[Love] generates and grows among free men; only with difficulty among men ruled by the principles of violence. As violence begets violence so does one personal act of kindness beget another… It is, then, in liberty that man’s natural aptness evolves toward its potentiality and its goodness.

Read sees the truth: Love prospers in liberty. It is also true that liberty prospers only with love. Only with love will you accept the principles of a free society. The rights and freedom you cherish for yourself are possible only when you cherish the same rights for everyone else.

It is twisted to believe you have the freedom to choose a medical procedure for yourself and, at the same time, believe others should make the same choice as you. Read cautions us to examine the underlying belief that we are more “decent” than others:

It is not necessary to make the case for the principle of love. Most persons will contend that it is the principle we ought to practice but that it is impractical. But try to find the individual who believes it impractical so far as he is concerned. He doesn’t exist. Each person thinks only that it is others who are incapable of decency.

Believing oneself more decent than others, it is an easy step to set oneself up as the standard for how others should live:What I am asserting is that everyone thinks himself essentially good, and capable of the high performances which interdependence requires in accordance with the principles of love. Why, then, don’t we be done with violence? Primarily, the reason is because of an all-too-common inhibiting fallacy, a myth we have conjured up in our minds: “No one else is quite as good and dependable, if left to his own resources, as I am.” This is a form of intellectual Caesarism. In effect, the persons who hold this opinion aver that the world would be a better place in which to live if only others were cast in their image— a rather brazen indictment of God.

Going on the Offense

Read explains why calls to “action” are relatively ineffective ways to restore and advance liberty. He singles out what matters most to the future of liberty: we must be students of the principles of liberty. He explains that even advanced students have more to learn:

An appreciation that progress is possible only when human energy is freed of restraint, has been gained by but few men. Is there one book or one article written by anyone at any time that can be designated as the final word on liberty? I doubt it. Perhaps the best that can be said is that the finest minds of all time have been in pursuit of its understanding and that now and then a tiny ray of new light has been thrown on what theretofore was darkness and lack of understanding. These few most advanced searchers have been among those who say: “The more exploration I do, the more I find there is to learn.”

As advanced searches of liberty, we join Read in asking, “What [then] ought to be the direction of our efforts?

My answer— self-improvement— is the essence of simplicity. The reasons which lie behind the answer, however, are complex. But without the complex reasons, the simple answer is useless. The inclinations to escape personal responsibility, and the conjured-up beliefs that somehow intellectual miracles can be wrought by us on someone else, are too persuasive for easy rejection. Unless we fully understand that these inclinations and beliefs are wholly without merit we will continue to indulge them. I wish to make the argument, as best I can, for self-improvement as the only practical course that there is to a greater liberty.

Read cautions that if you believe it is not you but someone else who needs improvement, you are looking in the wrong direction:

This notion that it is always someone else rather than one’s self who is in need of improvement is based on several false assumptions. It denies any extension of understanding to the one person on earth on whom one has the greatest influence— himself. It stamps the speaker as thinking of himself as a finished intellectual product, as all-wise. And, finally, it ignores the idea of truth as an object of infinite pursuit. This notion asserts a type of egotism in the presence of which learning cannot take place. It is death to the spirit of inquiry.

Read poses three questions for us to measure our commitment to liberty: “Would I initiate offense on those who would not offend me? Am I unjust, naturally, to the point where violence is required to restrain me? Am I unable and unwilling to deal honestly with those who would deal honestly with me?”

Read challenges us to vigorously discover the limits of our own understanding and recognize our failures to choose love over violence: “The student attitude is more than a matter of mere assertion. It is more than finding out what is known. It requires the rare quality of finding out that which is not known.”

Learning about love vs. violence should be a focus of our efforts:

If it be true that one does not become a teacher of liberty until he has advanced himself as a student; if it be true that the principle of love prospers in a condition of liberty; if it be true that the principle of violence thrives in the absence of the principle of love; if it be true that the principle of violence is destructive of ourselves, of civilization, and of mankind; then it would seem to follow that the student attitude should head our agenda of required activities.

Read admits that “to some a disappointing aspect of the student approach is that it reduces the chance of ‘saving the world’ to the saving of only one person— one’s self.” We have been wrong in thinking our work is to change others while pretending we are arbiters of virtue. It is only in the degree of our error that we differ from others.

Our efforts at self-improvement have their compensation: “A person with this philosophy receives satisfaction from any increases in his own perception and, consequently, is not dismayed with the ‘faults’ of others. Actually, there is no other way to ‘save the world.’”

It is easy to tell ourselves that others are not ready to take on the responsibilities of liberty. It is harder to consider our own reluctance to pursue a life of liberty and responsibility. At this crucial moment in history, Read counsels humility: “The advanced students of liberty, who are so greatly needed at this juncture in history, will spring from among those who properly rate their competency low but who are determined to raise it.”

The great news is that advancing liberty doesn’t depend on finding the right people to rule us. You, a student of liberty, are the person we are waiting for. Each of us is waiting for the other to choose love over violence. Stop waiting; living the virtues of love is essential to practicing what we preach.

It is easy to despair, fearing the outlook for liberty has never been bleaker. Read might say the outlook for liberty has never been greater. Why? Awakened to the erosion of liberty, there is more grist for the mill to facilitate our learning than at any time in recent memory. We have more opportunities to become advanced students of liberty. As each of us answers the call, the threat to liberty will diminish. All are called, but are enough of us ready to heed the call? The future of liberty depends on our answer.

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This article was published by AIER, American Institute for Economic Research, and is reproduced with permission.

FBI, Tech Giants Miss New York Subway Shooting Suspect’s Hateful Social Media Trail

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

The man charged with shooting commuters on a New York subway train Tuesday left a trail on social media in which he disparaged whites and complained about racism, homelessness, and violence. 

“What are you doing, brother?” Frank James, 62, of Milwaukee, said in one video, addressing New York Mayor Eric Adams. “What’s happening with this homeless situation?”

James, who like Adams is black, also talked about numerous conspiracy theories on YouTube, according to the Justice Department, and asserted: “And so the message to me is: I should have gotten a gun, and just started shooting mother——s.”

Two days before the shootings, which wounded or injured 23, James posted a video in which he asserted:

This is what white b—–s and white m———ers’ expect you to be … when you blow one of their … brains out—this is what you asked for. This is how you wanted me to be, obviously.

Among other offenses, James is charged with “terrorist attacks or other violence against a mass transportation system” in the mass shooting at the Sunset Park subway stop in Brooklyn, according to a Justice Department press release.

For more than a year, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube (which is owned by Google) have pledged to flag domestic extremists

The FBI—criticized for pursuing Russian collusion theories, “white supremacists,” and, more recently, school parents—also had access to monitor social media posts by James or anyone else.

“Yesterday, as everyday New Yorkers commuted through Brooklyn on our subway system, Frank James—as alleged—committed a horrific act that resulted in an around-the-clock effort by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York, the NYPD, and the ATF to find him and bring him to justice,” Michael J. Driscoll, assistant director in charge at the FBI’s New York field office, said Wednesday in a public statement.

“Thanks to the incredible work by all involved to identify James and get the proper information out to the public, he’s in federal custody and New Yorkers can breathe a little easier in our city today,” Driscoll said.

James was arrested Wednesday after he and at least two other tipsters called Crime Stoppers to alert police to his whereabouts in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan, the New York Post reported.

During a press conference Wednesday, Driscoll said news reports that James previously had been investigated in New Mexico and was on a terrorist watch list were inaccurate.

Social media giants as well as the Justice Department, which includes the FBI, seem to have focused elsewhere, said Kara Frederick, director of the Tech Policy Center at The Heritage Foundation, which is the parent organization of The Daily Signal. 

“We are experiencing the dichotomy between what the [Biden] administration calls domestic extremists and what really are domestic extremists,” Frederick told The Daily Signal.

“Parents at school board meetings or someone online supposedly spreading COVID misinformation or disinfomaiton are viewed as … a leftist concept of terrorists, as opposed to an actual domestict terrorist threat,” she said.

Facebook, Twitter, and other social media companies also have been slow to catch up with actual examples of hate speech, she said.

“Frankly, it has just been misprioritization of moms talking about COVID cloth masks and [missing] threats that don’t comport with a narrative,” Frederick said.

James has been arrested at least 12 times by the NYPD between 1984 and 1998 on charges ranging from burglary to criminal sexual acts, the New York Post reported

Reached by email about whether the subway shooting in New York was preventable, an FBI spokesperson referred The Daily Signal to the contents of the press conference Wednesday and declined to comment further.

A spokesperson for Google, the corporate owner of YouTube, did not respond Thursday to an inquiry from The Daily Signal for this report.

James posted messages on Facebook about guns and bullets, and about the 9/11 terror attacks being an inside job. 

In one video, James said: “This nation was born in violence, it’s kept alive by violence or the threat thereof, and it’s going to die a violent death.”

The criminal complaint against James says that for the attack during morning rush hour Tuesday, he used a Glock 17 pistol that he bought in Ohio.

Prosecutors say that James, wearing a surgical mask, set off a smoke-emitting device in a train car before firing at subway riders.

James had arrived in New York earlier that day in a rental van driven from Pennsylvania, authorities said. He parked the van on Kings Highway, about two blocks from the Sunset Park station entrance.

After the attack, James left behind a bag that included fireworks, a plastic container containing gasoline, and a torch.

In another video, extending previous racial rants, James said: “There is no natural reason for there to be such a thing as an American Negro, African American, there is no reason for it. Except for you to be a slave. That is your rightful place, it always will be.”

James took video of his journey from Milwaukee to New York that began March 20, with stops in Illinois and Pennsylvania, saying at one point while looking at the camera: “All I can say is, good riddance. I will never be back again alive.” 

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This article was published by The Daily Signal and is reproduced with permission.

75% Don’t Trust Social Media to Make Fair Content Moderation Decisions

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes

81% of Republicans think Facebook and Twitter’s Trump ban violated the First Amendment, strong liberals are three times more likely than conservatives to report users on social media, 58% of Americans support a First Amendment content moderation standard.

 

A new Cato Institute/​YouGov national survey of 2,000 Americans finds that three-fourths of Americans don’t trust social media companies to make fair content moderation decisions. The survey, conducted in collaboration with YouGov, finds that nearly two-thirds (60%) would prefer social media companies provide users with greater choice and control over the content they see in their newsfeeds rather than do more to reduce all users’ exposure to offensive content or misinformation (40%). It also finds that a majority (63%) believe social media companies have too much influence over the outcome of national elections.

81% of Republicans Think Facebook and Twitter’s Trump Ban Violated the First Amendment

Republicans (81%) believe that Facebook and Twitter violated the First Amendment when they elected to ban Trump, while Democrats (89%) say that the First Amendment was not violated. While Facebook and Twitter are private platforms and their decision to ban Trump did not violate the First Amendment, Republicans’ perception that they did highlights their strong emotional response to the banning.

Part of this emotional response may be explained by Republicans’ concerns that if Trump can be banned, then they themselves are also more likely to have their account suspended by these companies. Republicans (38%) are nearly four times more likely than Democrats (10%) to say that Trump’s suspension makes them feel like their social media accounts are more likely to be suspended. A quarter (25%) of independents agree.

On the other hand, most Americans (55%) agree with the decisions made by Facebook and Twitter to ban former President Donald Trump from their platforms following the January 6, 2021, storming of the Capitol. But there is a large partisan split: 93% of Democrats and 54% of independents agree with the decision, whereas 85% of Republicans disagree.

Liberals Are Much More Likely than Conservatives to Report Users on Social Media

Strong liberals are nearly three times more likely than strong conservatives to say that they have reported another user to a social media company for sharing offensive content or false information. This behavior is highly tied to political ideology. Among social media users, 65% of strong liberals, 44% of moderate liberals, 32% of moderates, 21% of moderate conservatives, and 24% of strong conservatives have done this.

This strong ideological trend continues even if the results are constrained among those who use social media several times a day. Among very frequent social media users: strong liberals (72%) are about 2.5 times more likely than strong conservatives (30%) to have reported another person because of what they posted. Similarly, when it comes to blocking people, strong liberals (83%) are 30 points more likely than strong conservatives (53%) to have done this.

58% of Americans Support a First Amendment Content Moderation Standard

A majority of Americans (58%) say that social media sites should use the First Amendment as the standard for their content moderation decisions. Partisans disagree, with 82% of Republicans and 60% of independents supporting the use of the First Amendment and 64% of Democrats saying companies should set their own rules.

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Continue reading this article at CATO INSTITUTE.