Louisiana & Alabama Attorneys General Set Up Silly Hotline To Report 'Social Media Censorship' They Can't Do Anything About

from the stop-wasting-everyone's-time dept

While various states are pushing unconstitutional laws to try to compel social media websites to host content they don’t want to host, it appears that some state Attorneys General are seeing what kinds of questionable things they can do even without a law. Florida’s law was already declared unconstitutional, but other states are still trying to pass these laws. One feature seen in a bunch of them is the ability for residents in a state to complain to the Attorney General and to ask the AG to investigate.

It appears that Louisiana and Alabama aren’t waiting around for a law on that front. The Attorneys General from both states, Jeff Landry from Louisiana and Steve Marshall from Alabama, have announced plans to set up a special hotline for ignorant people who are sure they’ve been “censored by big tech.”

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Tuesday launched an initiative aimed at addressing censorship on social media platforms.

As part of the initiative, the official websites of each attorney general now provide a ?Social Media Censorship Complaint Form? for the public to report abuses by Big Tech, according to press releases sent by the attorney generals? offices in both states.

Of course, what they never mention is that websites are allowed to do whatever the hell they want on their own websites, because it’s their private property. And if you violate their laws, they can ask you to leave. Remember when Republicans used to support that kind of thing? Anyway, this is just performative nonsense:

Landry and Marshall are encouraging citizens in their states who have been censored online to file formal complaints with their respective offices.

The information provided in these complaints will be kept confidential, in accordance with each state?s laws, Landry?s office said. Each complaint will be reviewed and will be reviewed and analyzed to determine whether the reported conduct by social media companies constitutes a violation of federal or state law.

Here, I’ll help both offices “review and analyze” the complaints for free: “No, nothing the websites do with regards to moderation violates federal or state law, because moderation choices are fully protected by the 1st Amendment.” In fact, the more questionable thing is setting up this complaint form, because it sure looks like an effort to pressure private websites to change their content moderation practices and that could violate the 1st Amendment.

I’m not linking to the forms themselves, but they are just as dumb as you would expect. The Louisiana one is… not even on a government website, but on AG Landry’s own .com (though it also claims — falsely — that all content is copyright to the Louisiana Department of Justice, even though state governments are not supposed to copyright their own content, so who the hell knows if this is a government website or a private one). That form is pretty short, though I’m amused that it asks people to say whether they felt the moderation actions taken against them were justified. Like, who’s going to say that it was?

The Alabama form is way more ridiculous. Even the framing of it is ridiculous, saying it’s a “social media censorship complaint form.”

The Alabama page asks all sorts of information — including asking you to say if a website fact checked your content, which is obviously 1st Amendment protected speech (and is “more speech” not “censorship.”)

All of this is nonsense, of course. As noted above, websites have every right to manage the content on their sites how they see fit. And these forms are just useless grandstanding from two Attorneys General who must know better and simply don’t care. They’re misleading the public and pretending to do be able to do something they cannot. And, if they actually did try to do something, that would be completely unconstitutional. The chief legal officer in a state shouldn’t be setting out to (1) mislead the public with nonsense, and (2) set up to do something unconstitutional. Alabama and Louisiana: elect better people.

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Comments on “Louisiana & Alabama Attorneys General Set Up Silly Hotline To Report 'Social Media Censorship' They Can't Do Anything About”

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54 Comments
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That One Guy (profile) says:

The party of 'personal responsibility' indeed

It is just so sad and pathetic that ‘sites punished me for breaking the rules and/or pointing out I’m a liar, that’s censorship and they must be punished for it’ has become such a core pillar of an entire bloody political party.

So much for personal responsibility, the free market and even the first amendment, nope these days it’s all about assholes with massive self-entitlement whining that other people don’t want to be around them and how it’s an utter travesty that rules apply to them rather than just those icky others.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The party of 'personal responsibility' indeed

It’s as telling that having their medical advice, such as masks being useless, is being labelled as false information on the advice of medial specialists is considered censorship. It as is politicians know more about medicine and pandemics than those who have spent a lifetime studying such things.

Anonymous Coward says:

Pedantic but important niggle

…state governments are not supposed to copyright their own content…

This is not true. The U.S. government cannot claim copyright, but state governments are not so restricted. Regulations and court decisions aside, state agencies can, and often do, copyright their publications.

HOWEVER, Louisiana in particular has a Public Records law allowing anyone to "inspect and copy" "state records"–which term the statute defines very broadly. By my reading of the statute (see below), this complaint database would be considered a (publicly accessible) state record.

But surely a sworn state-sponsored shyster wouldn’t violate state law in a rush to trample all over the U.S. constitution’s Bill of Rights?

CAVEAT: I am not a lawyer of any kind, but have spent thousands of volunteer hours researching the copyright status of books destined for Project Gutenberg and similar free archives.

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nerdrage (profile) says:

remember the olden days?

Remember when Republicans were the party of capitalism, libertarianism and big business? They wouldn’t dream of squelching the right of corporations to decide to do as they see fit. Once Republicans start in on government interference with corporations, they’ve really lost all justification of their existence, to the extent they ever had any.

This comment has been deemed funny by the community.
Jono793 (profile) says:

What a shame I can’t file, completely serious reports about how big tech censored me by removing me from their private platforms. Being a UK citizen who doesn’t live in the ‘States.

In completely unrelated news, I subscribed to a VPN during to get around the BBC’s lacklustre olympic coverage. Two more weeks of my subscription. I wonder what I should do with it?

generateusername says:

Agree with this article, but I do wish that platforms would offer users more of a direct say in content moderation decisions, a better appeals process, and a way to contact someone for support/feedback. The difference, of course, is that I’m not going to pretend that I’m in any way entitled to these things (it’s a wish, not a demand) because, as Mike wrote, "websites are allowed to do whatever the hell they want on their own websites".

generateusername says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well, that’s obviously up for discussion.

I distinctly remember Facebook holding a vote on TOS changes in 2006. Of course, it was set up to fail: they set a quorum and then didn’t tell anyone about the vote except on a "Facebook Policy" page that you had to seek out and follow, so naturally most people didn’t know about this.

That would be one way of giving users more of a say, although I’m not sure how wise this would be in this day and age.

Christenson says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Techdirt’s rules with flagging stuff as "spam, etc" work pretty well…

A bunch of us yell at Kobe, and when a post gets "flagged" enough times, it is at least hidden, and I bet one of Mike’s minions actually looks at it then.

But that takes some work to scale up multiple orders of magnitude to twitter; techdirt doesn’t seem to have trouble with brigading, and anything really harmful is out of the site’s scope.

This gets a lot harder if we start talking, say, about suicide.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Given how conservative assholes would try their hardest to rig such polls in favor of policies that would favor conservative voices and spit in the face of marginalized voices? Yes, it would be a bad idea. Besides, the final say on such matters should always be up to the people who own the property, not the people who are given the privilege of using it.

generateusername says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Given how conservative assholes would try their hardest to rig such polls in favor of policies that would favor conservative voices and spit in the face of marginalized voices? Yes, it would be a bad idea.

I brought this up less as a serious proposal and more to see if anyone else remembers this (or was I just hallucinating?)

Besides, the final say on such matters should always be up to the people who own the property, not the people who are given the privilege of using it.

Legally and technically, social media platforms are for-profit businesses, but they sell themselves as communities. Their rules are often called "Community Guidelines" or something to that effect. And in the future, I think it wouldn’t be so ridiculous to say "I live on Facebook/Twitter/Youtube" – in fact such people already exist: you may have heard of them referred to as the "Extremely Online". But with things like the "metaverse" and tech playing an ever-increasing role in people’s lives, the idea of platforms as virtual places where people "live" (as opposed to businesses that people patronize) might not seem so far-fetched. Social media platforms are already referred to as "virtual communities", and if the creators of said communities want me to "live" there, then I sure do hope that I get to do so as the "citizen" of a democracy, just as I get to do in my real, physical community.

I mean, in my ideal world, social media companies would be co-ops. Or maybe run under a Wikipedia-like model. But that’s not really a wish – that’s a fantasy.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3

Their rules are often called "Community Guidelines" or something to that effect.

The rules refer not to who gets to make the guidelines, but to whom the guidelines apply. Letting the community make the guidelines is asking for trouble.

I think it wouldn’t be so ridiculous to say "I live on Facebook/Twitter/Youtube" – in fact such people already exist: you may have heard of them referred to as the "Extremely Online".

It is ridiculous now and will be ridiculous in the future. Moreover, I don’t care what you call them⁠—they don’t get to make the rules if they don’t own the platform.

the idea of platforms as virtual places where people "live" (as opposed to businesses that people patronize) might not seem so far-fetched

Watching rich assholes spend millions of dollars on expensive-ass VR meetings won’t make that technology any more palatable to the general public⁠—or create the level of Internet infrastructure necessary for that technology to work without severe issues.

Social media platforms are already referred to as "virtual communities", and if the creators of said communities want me to "live" there, then I sure do hope that I get to do so as the "citizen" of a democracy

Therein lies your problem: Platforms are tyrannies, not democracies. You don’t get, or deserve, a right to vote on the policies of a given platform. You may not even get the chance to have a say in whether a given policy sucks. That’s the deal to which you agreed when you asked for a spot on a platform you don’t own/control.

You want to “live” on Twitter? Go right ahead. But doing so means you live by the rules of the “landlords”, not the rules you think they should enact for you.

that’s not really a wish – that’s a fantasy

Stop living in the dream world and accept reality: Twitter isn’t, and shouldn’t ever be, a democracy.

generateusername says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

You don’t get, or deserve, a right to vote on the policies of a given platform. You may not even get the chance to have a say in whether a given policy sucks.

Like I said, I’m not going to pretend that I’m entitled to this. What I want to discuss is whether it’s a good idea to give users more of a say in policy and moderation decisions. If it is, then there should be ways to convince platform owners that it is in their best interests to do so. It’s clear that public pressure already has some influence in the platform’s policy/moderation decisions, but that’s more in an abstract way. And I’m not calling for platforms to be democracies: that would (perhaps unfortunately) be unworkable in an online context. Even Wikipedia is explicitly not a democracy.

But doing so means you live by the rules of the “landlords”

That’s actually not quite accurate: if it was, I’ll be entitled to tenant protection laws. Nor would I expect it to be, since I don’t pay "rent" to a social media platform.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5

What I want to discuss is whether it’s a good idea to give users more of a say in policy and moderation decisions.

Do you want bigots brigading such discussions and pushing for rules that are more lenient towards their bigotry? Your answer to that question is also the answer to yours.

public pressure already has some influence in the platform’s policy/moderation decisions, but that’s more in an abstract way

Public pressure is the only way a userbase should have a say in a platform’s decision-making⁠—and even then, they shouldn’t get the final say.

That’s actually not quite accurate

It was a metaphor; it wasn’t meant to be wholly accurate.

sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Lemme help you out here, genny:

I wish that platforms would offer users more of a direct say in content moderation decisions,

Platforms are not democracies. Whoever has the money (the owner(s)) makes the rules, and they aren’t up for discussion.

… a better appeals process,

How do you appeal something you actually did, the proof being right out in the open for all to see? It comes down to a matter of interpretation. Need I remind you about "he who has the gold is the judge, jury and executioner"?

… and a way to contact someone for support/feedback.

That would be of help, I agree. To be kept in the dark about what you allegedly did wrong is impolite at the least, and more than a bit dishonest, IMO. But at scale…. refer to The Masnick Effect for elucidation.

generateusername says:

Re: Re: Re:

Platforms are not democracies. Whoever has the money (the owner(s)) makes the rules, and they aren’t up for discussion.

I find that the best-moderated communities solicit feedback from their users. Of course, what they do with the feedback is another matter, but at least the opportunity for discussion is there.

How do you appeal something you actually did, the proof being right out in the open for all to see? It comes down to a matter of interpretation. Need I remind you about "he who has the gold is the judge, jury and executioner"?

I’m also thinking about the times when it’s something you didn’t actually do. With so much moderation being automated, it happens fairly often. My thinking is Facebook’s Oversight Board, but turned into an industry group and expanded to cover more platforms. But as you suggested, the problem is scale (how many cases can they process?) and "he who has the gold…" (Facebook, and it’s $175 million’s worth).

Rekrul says:

I wonder how seriously they’ll take Hugh Jass’s complaints about the fact that they deleted his post saying that Donald Trump was a brain-damaged, mouth-breathing, lying, orange buffoon who was so stupid that he couldn’t find his own ass with both hands and a flashlight, and that the republican party as a whole were a bunch of corrupt, psychotic idiots who are actively trying to kill people in the middle of a global pandemic.

Surely as defenders of freedom of speech, they’ll be outraged at this infringement of his rights!

I am so gonna use this... says:

I had a go-around with Spreadshirt the other day over a T-shirt design with an icon of orange circle with a yellow wave on top asking "MAGA: Where Are You?", and responding "SARS-COV19: I’m In Your Base Killing Your Doodz" – despite the ample amount of Trump merchandise on spreadshirt I was told my design did not make the grade, solely because it featured the Trump-ish icon..

So I am -so- totally going to report their censorship…

😛

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I mean I am immortal and I’ve been around forever, but I can’t be the only one who remembers when people abused their positions resulted in actual punishments… can I?

Middle of a raging pandemic & state funds are being spent on a plan that has no legal basis so a few jackasses can grandstand while they make sure they stop anyone from actually trying to keep people from dying.
I mean does no one else remember the last time they did this shit?
When no one could mention condoms while HIV was spreading like wildfire & a bunch of crazy kooks claimed it was made in a lab/gods punishment/deserved… and if you tried to help people by explaining condoms & transmission the feds took your money away.

It must be nice to profit from encouraging people to kill themselves & others while wasting resources trying to stop the tide coming in.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

To be kept in the dark about what you allegedly did wrong is impolite at the least, and more than a bit dishonest, IMO.

Think about it like this: if you don’t know what offensive thing you said, the only proper response is to shut up and listen to the community until you have a better understanding of what is tolerated there. Nobody wants to argue with you about whether what you said was or was not offensive. Claiming you’re not being offensive when people are offended is, all by itself, extremely offensive.

I’ve been on both sides of this. Some of my posts have been removed from various fora, and I’ve had the problem of deciding what posts to remove to allow fora to support their intended community. I can sympathize with both problems, but … the community cannot thrive without effective moderation, but it CAN and WILL thrive without people who seem to be trying to alienate other potential community members. Moderating is a stressful and exhausting job, and anything that makes it more stressful (like discussing moderation acts with the perpetrators of the moderated posts), IS NOT AND CAN NEVER BE WORTH THE TIME AND TROUBLE INVOLVED.

So, you want to know how you managed to be so offensive? Go back to kindergarten. Listen to what your mother or grandmother said about common courtesy. And practice it until you’ve learned how. Learn to treat your opinion as just as relevant to other people as theirs is to you, and keep it to yourself.

In partiular, nobody cares what you think about, say, Lower Slobbovians–you haven’t met all of them, so your opinion is uninformed, and you are too stupid to see how uninformed your opinion is–so nobody SHOULD be paying you any attention anyway: in fact, you have proved you are too stupid to know what it means to know, and therefore hardly anything you could say can be trusted anyway.

In most contexts, the same applies to Biden or Trump. People around you already have their own opinions–and nobody ever came to, say, Techdirt to find out what they ought to think about either one. So address what people really came to Techdirt to learn. People will respect you. And this applies whether or not you think the community mostly agrees with you. You aren’t going to make converts; you can and will make the community think everyone who agrees with you is a rude ignoramus.

This approach simply works. Nothing else will.

Anonymous Coward says:

That form is pretty short, though I’m amused that it asks people to say whether
they felt the moderation actions taken against them were justified.
Like, who’s going to say that it was?

Probably the same people that would answer the ESTA form’s question #4

  1. Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide?

with a yes.

John85851 (profile) says:

We all know this is performative

If everyone here on this site knows this idea is performative and stupid, why aren’t more people going on the offensive and pushing back? Where’s the media calling out these AG’s for their dumb idea? Why aren’t we seeing Democratic politicians calling out this stupid idea? I would think Democrats would get a lot of mileage out of blasting the "party of personal responsibility" for their claims of censorship.
And as a bonus, the Democrats could post examples of the posts that are getting Republicans "censored".

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