(Mis)Uses of Technology

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
mark zuckerberg

Companies:
facebook



Facebook's Use Of Smear Merchants Is The Norm, Not The Exception

from the nobody-wants-to-fix-this dept

So by now most people have probably read the New York Times deep dive into what can only be described as Facebook's deep well of internal dysfunction and self delusion. While there's a lot of interesting bits in the piece, one portion that received some extra, justified hyperventilation was the revelation of Facebook's use of smear merchants. Smear merchants that the Times notes Facebook employed to try and discredit those pointing out that Facebook's privacy practices have generally been hot garbage:

"While Mr. Zuckerberg has conducted a public apology tour in the last year, Ms. Sandberg has overseen an aggressive lobbying campaign to combat Facebook’s critics, shift public anger toward rival companies and ward off damaging regulation. Facebook employed a Republican opposition-research firm to discredit activist protesters, in part by linking them to the liberal financier George Soros. It also tapped its business relationships, lobbying a Jewish civil rights group to cast some criticism of the company as anti-Semitic."

By late 2017, a big part of those efforts involved paying DC-based consultancy Definers Public Affairs to engage in efforts to smear competitors and activist critics alike. In some instances, the Times suggests this involved parroting intentionally dubious stories via Definers' "news" organization, NTK Network:

"On a conservative news site called the NTK Network, dozens of articles blasted Google and Apple for unsavory business practices. One story called Mr. Cook hypocritical for chiding Facebook over privacy, noting that Apple also collects reams of data from users. Another played down the impact of the Russians’ use of Facebook."

Ironic that Facebook was funding disinformation while professing to fight disinformation. Of course, the public reaction was immediate and justifiable. Twitter was stocked with people simply shocked that a major company would hire a PR and policy firm to spread fluff and nonsense. And Facebook was quick to issue a statement downplaying what Definers had been up to, yet acknowledging they'd fired the firm for what they'd apparently have you believe is no solid reason:

"Lastly we wanted to address the issue of Definers, who we ended our contract with last night. The New York Times is wrong to suggest that we ever asked Definers to pay for or write articles on Facebook’s behalf – or to spread misinformation. Our relationship with Definers was well known by the media – not least because they have on several occasions sent out invitations to hundreds of journalists about important press calls on our behalf. Definers did encourage members of the press to look into the funding of “Freedom from Facebook,” an anti-Facebook organization. The intention was to demonstrate that it was not simply a spontaneous grassroots campaign, as it claimed, but supported by a well-known critic of our company."

In a conference call this afternoon, Zuckerberg then tried to claim that neither he nor Sandberg knew anything about Definers being hired, while insisting that Facebook would be taking a much closer look at their DC policy and lobbying partners moving forward. But companies routinely hire firms like Definers knowing full well the kind of tactics they employ, and the idea that neither Zuckerberg nor Sandberg knew anything about the work Definers was doing is generally being seen as either a falsehood or incompetence.

While Facebook's decision to smear critics instead of owning their own obvious dysfunction is clearly idiotic, much of the backlash has operated under the odd belief that Facebook's behavior is some kind of exception, not the norm. Countless companies employ think tanks, consultants, bogus news ops, PR firms, academics, and countless other organizations to spread falsehoods, pollute the public discourse, and smear their critics on a daily basis. It's a massive industry. Just ask the telecom sector.

In the last decade alone broadband providers and firms far worse than Definers have been caught paying minority groups to generate bunk support for bad policy, hijacking consumer identities to support bad policy, creating bogus consumer groups to generate fake support for bad policy, flooding the news wires endlessly with misleading op/eds without disclosing financial conflicts of interest, stocking public meetings with cardboard cutouts (so real people can't attend), or filling news comments sections and social media with bullshit criticism of corporate critics.

This is the world we've built, and nobody wants to do anything about it. In none of the above instances did anyone face the slightest consequences for their actions. And this is just telecom. The same tactics occur in countless sectors. Third party policy and lobbying houses routinely help corporations stuff public proceedings with entirely bogus public support. Reporters are still trying to determine which of a dozen PR lobbying and policy shops helped the broadband industry steal the identities of real (and in some instances dead people) to generate bogus support for killing net neutrality.

These kind of shady business operations are absolutely everywhere and used by countless major companies ranging from AT&T to your local power utility. As (relatively) new entries on the American lobbying scene, Silicon Valley companies have often insisted they're above such behavior, something this week's report pretty clearly disproves. And while it's great everybody's upset about Facebook and Definers' clearly disingenuous tactics, this is a problem we've let infect the marrow of American business culture--in large part because we refuse to actually do anything about it.

You'll routinely see no efforts at serious lobbying and policy reform, no real punishment for involved offenders, and (as Facebook made abundantly clear) zero real unforced interest in addressing disinformation. The best we routinely get is a few bouts of short-lived hyperventilation and some hand-wringing in the press, followed by some collective amnesia as bigger, worse scandals increasingly gobble up our already-strained attention spans.


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  • identicon
    David, 15 Nov 2018 @ 12:27pm

    What's next?

    Ironic that Facebook was funding disinformation while professing to fight disinformation.

    Sounds like Zuckerberg is training for political office.

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    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2018 @ 12:30pm

      Re: What's next?

      Hopefully not training for office.. GEEEZ!

      I am sure that was a social experiment!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 15 Nov 2018 @ 1:57pm

      Re: What's next?

      As I've said before on here, the long-standing political pattern in America, dating back all the way to the Clinton administration, (longer than a significant percentage of today's voting-age population have been able to vote, or in some cases even longer than they've been alive, making it the only pattern they've ever known,) is to respond to the poor job each successive President has done in leading this nation by throwing him out and picking someone of the other party, who ends up being even worse.

      We got Clinton as a backlash against Bush Sr., then Bush Jr. as a backlash against Clinton. Bush Jr. was such a screwup that we threw him out and elected Obama, who did such an inept job that we threw him out and elected Trump. That's the clear pattern: we elect Presidents based not on who they are, but on who they aren't: we pick whoever manages to portray themselves best as "the antithesis of the current President." And each one is even worse than the last.

      Next in line is a Democrat who turns out to be worse than Trump. Mark Zuckerberg would fit the pattern perfectly.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Thad (profile), 15 Nov 2018 @ 2:16pm

        Re: Re: What's next?

        Uh, we didn't vote Clinton, W, or Obama out of office, Mason. All three of them were two-term presidents. They were "thrown out" by term limits, not voters.

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        • icon
          Mason Wheeler (profile), 15 Nov 2018 @ 3:26pm

          Re: Re: Re: What's next?

          Sure, but we "threw out" *what they stood for* by choosing the candidate who best portrayed himself as diametrically opposed to what they stood for, every single time.

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          • icon
            Thad (profile), 15 Nov 2018 @ 4:01pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: What's next?

            Well, first of all, both Bush (in 2000) and Trump lost the popular vote. Saying that "we chose" them ignores that they were in fact chosen by a minority of voters.

            Secondly, both Clinton and Obama had high approval ratings when they term-limited out. I think Clinton would have beaten Bush and Obama would have beaten Trump in those hypothetical matchups.

            There's an excellent argument to be made that Bush's unpopularity hurt McCain. There's not nearly as good an argument to be made that B Clinton's unpopularity hurt Gore or Obama's hurt H Clinton, seeing as neither B Clinton nor Obama were actually unpopular.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 15 Nov 2018 @ 6:03pm

            Re: Sure, but we "threw out" *what they stood for*

            No you didn’t. Clinton got more votes than Trump. It was the machinations of the Electoral College that brought the Lügenführer in.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              David, 16 Nov 2018 @ 2:53am

              Re: Re: Sure, but we "threw out" *what they stood for*

              The whole point of Electoral College is to make the votes of city dwellers count less than that of land owners, weighing population by the area they have available. It is working as intended. If you want your votes to count, move into less densely populated areas.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                nae such, 16 Nov 2018 @ 7:02am

                Re: Re: Re: Sure, but we "threw out" *what they stood for*

                i thought the electoral college came into existence when the constitution was ratified and the only ones with the vote were rich landowners. did a change in the electoral college occur as the vote was spread more widely to all whites, all men, or all women?

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 16 Nov 2018 @ 1:24pm

                Re: make the votes of city dwellers count less than that of land

                Not land owners, slave owners.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Mason Wheeler (profile), 16 Nov 2018 @ 6:51am

              Re: Re: Sure, but we "threw out" *what they stood for*

              That argument makes exactly as much sense as claiming "my team is the real winner of the World Series because they scored more runs overall!"

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                Thad (profile), 16 Nov 2018 @ 8:05am

                Re: tl;dr

                If people point out the flaws in your argument and you respond with a non sequitur of a sports analogy instead of engaging their actual criticism, then they're not the ones whose argument doesn't make sense.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  Mason Wheeler (profile), 16 Nov 2018 @ 9:04am

                  Re: Re: tl;dr

                  It's not a non sequitur at all, and if it seems like one to you, that says more about you than it does about this conversation.

                  The point being made is that that is deliberately not the way it works, so pointing to some alternative scoring mechanism and trying to arbitrarily redefine victory in terms of it rather than the real rules is silly and pointless.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • icon
                    Leigh Beadon (profile), 16 Nov 2018 @ 9:24am

                    Re: Re: Re: tl;dr

                    OK Mason, but if you know that's how it works, then presenting presidents who won with a minority of the popular vote as somehow indicative of the collective national "will" was also silly and pointless.

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                    • icon
                      Mason Wheeler (profile), 16 Nov 2018 @ 11:55am

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: tl;dr

                      What I said was that "the collective national will" was to be rid of the current screwup, and that's been pretty constant for decades now.

                      Heck, if you factor in voter turnout, it's been a long, long, long time since any presidential candidate actually won a majority of the popular vote, because so many voters were so disgusted by the choices available that they couldn't bring themselves to vote for either one.

                      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                      • icon
                        Thad (profile), 16 Nov 2018 @ 12:10pm

                        Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: tl;dr

                        What I said was that "the collective national will" was to be rid of the current screwup

                        And that requires defining "the collective national will" as the will held by a minority of the nation. Which is not a very good definition.

                        Heck, if you factor in voter turnout, it's been a long, long, long time since any presidential candidate actually won a majority of the popular vote, because so many voters were so disgusted by the choices available that they couldn't bring themselves to vote for either one.

                        I mean, it kinda feels like you're changing the subject again?

                        Yes, the US has comparatively low voter turnout for a first-world nation; yes, that's a problem. I'm not sure how exactly it supports your repeated claim that two candidates who received fewer votes than their opponents represent "the collective national will".

                        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                      • icon
                        Leigh Beadon (profile), 16 Nov 2018 @ 2:27pm

                        Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: tl;dr

                        Heck, if you factor in voter turnout, it's been a long, long, long time since any presidential candidate actually won a majority of the popular vote, because so many voters were so disgusted by the choices available that they couldn't bring themselves to vote for either one.

                        On what basis do you claim to know that "voter disgust" is the sole or even primary reason for low voter turnouts?

                        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • icon
                    Thad (profile), 16 Nov 2018 @ 9:52am

                    Re: Re: Re: tl;dr

                    What Leigh said, with a side order of "I notice you responded to Lawrence's comment but not mine."

                    My post was clear in its criticisms of your argument. You chose to ignore it and respond to one that made the same argument in a less clear and detailed way.

                    There is, of course, merit to the argument that each new president is a reaction to the previous one. However, it's a gross oversimplification.

                    Firstly, there's the simple fact, which you keep trying to sidestep, that a majority of voters did not support Bush in 2000 or Trump in 2016. You keep arguing that the ping-pong between parties every two terms is indicative of voters deciding that the last president messed up. Okay, some voters clearly do believe that -- but in 2000 and 2016, a plurality didn't, and you keep ignoring that simple fact because it doesn't fit your narrative.

                    Secondly, if every new incoming president is simply a referendum on the outgoing president, then the logical conclusion of that argument is that Bush and Gore, Obama and McCain, Clinton and Trump, were actually irrelevant in their own elections; that people did not vote based on who was actually running, they voted based on the outgoing president who wasn't running. This is, of course, absurd. Dissatisfaction with the outgoing president is certainly a factor in how some people decide to cast their votes, but it's clearly not the single decisive factor that you're making it out to be.

                    Third, as I already pointed out: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were popular presidents when they left office. Your argument that Al Gore and Hillary Clinton lost because people were tired of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, respectively, does not match what the approval ratings of those outgoing presidents said. Bill Clinton was far more popular than Gore; Obama was far more popular than Hillary Clinton. This is, I suppose, a variation on my second point: no dude, elections really are about the candidate who's actually running, not just the current president who isn't. (I do think it's quite clear that Bush's unpopularity dragged McCain down and it's unlikely that another Republican would have done any better. But that's just one election. You're making it out as if this is some kind of rule that holds every eight years. It is not.)

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                    • icon
                      Mason Wheeler (profile), 16 Nov 2018 @ 12:22pm

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: tl;dr

                      Secondly, if every new incoming president is simply a referendum on the outgoing president, then the logical conclusion of that argument is that Bush and Gore, Obama and McCain, Clinton and Trump, were actually irrelevant in their own elections; that people did not vote based on who was actually running, they voted based on the outgoing president who wasn't running.

                      It's not quite that simple, but to a large degree, yes.

                      This is, of course, absurd.

                      Why? I first pointed out this pattern on here a long time ago. I called the next election for whichever Republican candidate manages to most effectively portray himself as the anti-Obama, years before anyone even knew Trump was going to be a serious candidate, and that's exactly what ended up happening. Scientists will tell you that the most important test of a theory is whether it's able to make valid predictions, and on that all-important criterion, my "backlash model" theory doesn't look "absurd" at all.

                      Third, as I already pointed out: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were popular presidents when they left office.

                      ...

                      ...

                      ...seriously?

                      What world are you living in? Do you even remember the eight years of unending scandals of the Clinton administration? The way Bush got elected as his replacement on a platform of "restoring dignity to the White House"? (Yeah, we all know how that turned out, but at the time, it was exactly what the people needed to hear, and it resonated with them, much like the equally-ridiculous-but-oh-so-timely "hope and change" and later "make America great again" did for the next few election cycles.) By the end of that mess, pretty much everyone was sick and tired of Clinton and ready for a break. I was there; I lived through it. Where were you?

                      As for Obama's approval rating, it was below 40% at the end of 2014. It ended up rising to a bit above 50% (hardly "very popular"!) once election season got started and people saw how the absolute stinkers of choices they had available on all sides were even worse than him, but between that and the chilling effect of anyone disapproving of him for any reason, legitimate or not, getting loudly accused of racism, it's safe to say that the numbers should be taken with a grain of salt.

                      I do think it's quite clear that Bush's unpopularity dragged McCain down and it's unlikely that another Republican would have done any better.

                      To be completely honest, I think Mitt Romney would have beaten Obama in 2008, had he not gotten washed out of the primaries by Mike Huckabee's blatant appeals to religious bigotry. Between the primaries and the general election, the financial crash happened, and suddenly the biggest issue on the nation's collective mind shifted from foreign policy--McCain's strongest area--to the economy, which was Romney's strongest area, and one in which he would have wiped the floor with Obama '08. (2012 was different for a number of reasons.) But that didn't end up happening, and we ended up stuck in the same pattern for another two cycles at least.

                      But that's just one election. You're making it out as if this is some kind of rule that holds every eight years. It is not.

                      And yet it has, ever since we got rid of Bush Sr. and replaced him with a charming, suave, younger President who oh-by-the-way turned out later to be thoroughly corrupt and also a sexual predator, setting up the cycle of backlash...

                      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                      • icon
                        Thad (profile), 16 Nov 2018 @ 2:46pm

                        Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: tl;dr

                        Scientists will tell you that the most important test of a theory is whether it's able to make valid predictions

                        They'll also tell you that a sample size of three is insufficient to declare that your model is making valid predictions.

                        ...

                        ...

                        ...seriously?

                        What world are you living in?

                        The one where Bill Clinton left office with an approval rating of 66% and Barack Obama left office with an approval rating of 59%.

                        Do you even remember the eight years of unending scandals of the Clinton administration? The way Bush got elected as his replacement on a platform of "restoring dignity to the White House"?

                        I do indeed remember those things.

                        I also remember that the impeachment effort was extremely unpopular, that Clinton's approval rating stayed in the 60s through 1998 (and even went above 70 right before the Senate trial began), and that Newt Gingrich's political fortunes experienced a precipitous drop.

                        I remember that Clinton weathered scandal to leave office as a popular president, and that Al Gore's decision to try and distance himself from Clinton was widely seen as a strategic blunder.

                        (Yeah, we all know how that turned out, but at the time, it was exactly what the people needed to hear, and it resonated with them, much like the equally-ridiculous-but-oh-so-timely "hope and change" and later "make America great again" did for the next few election cycles.) By the end of that mess, pretty much everyone was sick and tired of Clinton and ready for a break. I was there; I lived through it. Where were you?

                        In the country where most people voted for Al Gore, you disingenuous twit.

                        As for Obama's approval rating, it was below 40% at the end of 2014.

                        According to what source? Gallup has him bottoming out at 40 during election week, but staying in the mid-40s through most of 2014. Which isn't great, but isn't bad for a president in a midterm election year.

                        It ended up rising to a bit above 50% (hardly "very popular"!)

                        ...uh...you want to explain what the hell that last part was about? Because I never actually used the phrase "very popular", so I'm not sure why you just put it in quotation marks?

                        At any rate, you might consider comparing Obama's approval rating in 2016 to his approval ratings in 2012, the year he won reelection. Or Bush's approval ratings in 2004, the year he won a second term.

                        Hell, Obama had better numbers in 2016 than Reagan had in 1988.

                        but between that and the chilling effect of anyone disapproving of him for any reason, legitimate or not, getting loudly accused of racism, it's safe to say that the numbers should be taken with a grain of salt.

                        Ah, so we've reached the part of the discussion where you just dismiss data that doesn't agree with your premise and say it must be wrong. Just like scientists will tell you to do!

                        To be completely honest, I think Mitt Romney would have beaten Obama in 2008, had he not gotten washed out of the primaries by Mike Huckabee's blatant appeals to religious bigotry. Between the primaries and the general election, the financial crash happened, and suddenly the biggest issue on the nation's collective mind shifted from foreign policy--McCain's strongest area--to the economy, which was Romney's strongest area, and one in which he would have wiped the floor with Obama '08. (2012 was different for a number of reasons.) But that didn't end up happening, and we ended up stuck in the same pattern for another two cycles at least.

                        That's, uh...okay, sure. Romney would have won in 2008. That's exactly the opposite of the argument you've been making for this entire thread, but sure. Let's go with that.

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2018 @ 3:07pm

        Re: Re: What's next?

        I think the stench to which you refer goes back a bit further than you allude.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2018 @ 8:57pm

          Re: Re: Re: What's next?

          My diary goes back to Dec. 25, 1913. The night a few congressmen and Woodrow Wilson Ratified the 16th amendment. That's the night the government very sneakily made it law they could now tax citizens' rights to earn an income.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2018 @ 10:27pm

            Re: Constitution how does that work?

            The “night” that an admendment to the constitution that has to be ratified by 2/3 of the states over a ten year period was somehow “sneakily” signed into law, made me laugh until I coughed up an AC.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            nae such, 16 Nov 2018 @ 7:29am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: What's next?

            My diary goes back to Dec. 25, 1913. The night a few congressmen and Woodrow Wilson Ratified the 16th amendment. That's the night the government very sneakily made it law they could now tax citizens' rights to earn an income.

            your dates don't match wikipedia's on adoption of the 16th amendment. which say the proposal vote was on july 12, 1909. that proposal appears to have then been ratified by the states from august 1909 to march 1913. wikipedia's authors also note that the 16th was declared by the secretary of the state to be added to the constitution of the u.s. on february 25, 1913. woodrow wilson later signed the revenue act of 1913 on october 3 of that year which introduced an income tax.

            do you have alternate sources that tell a different tale?

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2018 @ 2:44pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What's next?

              It was so easy for the facts and dates to be edited in wiki. You have to do an exhaustive search where the documents were still accessable in the 1970s.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2018 @ 8:04am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: What's next?

            Of all the amendments to attack, why pick that one?

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            • icon
              Thad (profile), 16 Nov 2018 @ 8:23am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What's next?

              Paint chips.

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              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2018 @ 2:52pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What's next?

                Ignorance wether willful or not won't help you understand just how much the American citizens have been undermined by members of tphis government. Heavily progressive income placed upon America's RIGHT to earned a livingwas something that had only been legal to do to a corporation's priviledgeu. That code read very close the theu 2nd plank of the CommunistManifesto by Marx. Ir just takes a generation ir two for the facts to become obfuscated blurred or changed.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2018 @ 12:27pm

    Hopefully this will be their demise. Nobody likes garbage except the garbage man. No one likes hot garbage.

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  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 15 Nov 2018 @ 12:59pm

    While it's great everybody's upset about Facebook and Definers' clearly disingenuous tactics, this is a problem we've let infect the marrow of American business culture--in large part because we refuse to actually do anything about it. No lobbying and policy reform, no real punishment, and no real attempts to rein in policy and lobbying driven disinformation. The best we routinely get is a few bouts of short-lived hyperventilation and some hand-wringing.

    And what do you suggest we do? As long as we cling to the notion that corporate entities have the same First Amendment rights to free speech that real people do--an idea Techdirt is consistently outspoken in its support for--they will continue to abuse it as license to do more stupid crap like this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      John Smith, 15 Nov 2018 @ 1:16pm

      Re:

      Yet here you on Techdirt itself critizing Techdirt, with your post NOT censored.

      This site's own policy is very smart: let people argue, and let the traffic build every time something is hotly debated.

      Such a policy ensures that the site will never lose relevance, and that the often very lively debates will never become sanitizsed. Big Tech would benefit and profit greatly from adopting a similar posture, even if it means embracing users who speak truth to the powers behind the big tec sites themselves.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Mason Wheeler (profile), 15 Nov 2018 @ 1:20pm

        Re: Re:

        This is true. It's also not relevant to what I wrote.

        I was asking, in response to the article saying that a big part of the problem is that we have "No lobbying and policy reform, no real punishment, and no real attempts to rein in policy and lobbying driven disinformation"--in other words, no legal policies to stop this kind of bad behavior--what the author believes would be an effective legal policy in a world where they can claim that their bad behavior falls under the near-absolute privilege of the First Amendment.

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        • identicon
          John Smith, 15 Nov 2018 @ 3:29pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          I would say that what I wrote is relevant in that the problem with banning "disinformation" is that those with the power to define "disinformation" would inevitably abuse that power, making the solution worse than the problem, hence my preference for open-speech policies ilke the one on this site, or for a similar policy at companies like Facebook, i.e., where they allow even vicious criticism of themselves on their own platform, monetizing the debate every step of the way.

          The company that comes closest to this is Google, plus they pay 68 percent of the ad money they make to the creators of the content, even that which criticizes Google. GGoogle wouldn't waste time with such a "smear campaign" since it would just let the two sides duke it out while they sell ads. Kind of like an arms dealer not caring who wins a war.

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        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2018 @ 9:10pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          ..under the near-absolute priviledge of the first amendment..

          Corporations have priviledges. Citizens have rights. The first amendment is a right to be enjoyed by citizens who are also priviledged to use such rights as they are free to do as they can by law.

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          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2018 @ 8:06am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "Corporations have privileges"

            ... that can be revoked

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            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2018 @ 6:22pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              It makes my blood BOIL when reports come out that walmart made $30,000,000,000.00 in profit in a single year. If the government cared so much about our kids, they would stop the greed that steals food from my kids' mouths and medicine from their care and clothes from their backs. Its unconscienable that in a single decade a single corporation can pillage and plunder from our national economy a third of a trilllion dollars. Where is anyone who claims they care so much about the children when these corporations are stealing zillions of dollars from the backbones of the nation through this overpricing runaway atrocity? What good is anyone of those politickers when this crime is occuring daily?

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    • icon
      Thad (profile), 15 Nov 2018 @ 2:21pm

      Re:

      I fail to see the connection. There are many limits on corporate speech that have been ruled constitutional.

      Laws preventing fraudulent speech such as false advertising or lying to shareholders do not violate the First Amendment. What makes you think that laws restricting corporations from deliberately spreading misinformation about their critics would be any different?

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    • icon
      Leigh Beadon (profile), 15 Nov 2018 @ 2:25pm

      Re:

      It is entirely possible to reform the lobbying system, and reduce the undue influence of business and money on politics and regulation, without relying on a restrictive interpretation of the first amendment to do so.

      There are even detailed legislative proposals for how to accomplish this, backed by constitutional lawyers who have vetted them to ensure they don't conflict with the first amendment. For example, read about the American Anti-Corruption Act: https://anticorruptionact.org/

      This is a far superior approach to the half-baked idea of excluding corporate entities from the first amendment - which neither makes sense nor has any conceivable path to becoming a reality.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Thad (profile), 15 Nov 2018 @ 2:41pm

        Re: Re:

        And even the Citizens United ruling allowed that a law banning anonymous campaign contributions could be constitutional; Congress just never got around to passing one.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Mason Wheeler (profile), 15 Nov 2018 @ 3:31pm

        Re: Re:

        It is entirely possible to reform the lobbying system, and reduce the undue influence of business and money on politics and regulation, without relying on a restrictive interpretation of the first amendment to do so.

        With the Citizens United ruling, and follow-up cases that double down on it, being a thing, I don't believe that this is true without a constitutional amendment invalidating the concept of corporate personhood.

        There are even detailed legislative proposals for how to accomplish this, backed by constitutional lawyers who have vetted them to ensure they don't conflict with the first amendment. For example, read about the American Anti-Corruption Act: https://anticorruptionact.org/

        I'm quite familiar with it, and the people behind it. It's a great idea, but the reality is it'll never "take" as long as corporate personhood remains a thing. I would absolutely love to be proved wrong on this point, but I haven't seen anything to make me think I will. :(

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Leigh Beadon (profile), 15 Nov 2018 @ 5:50pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          What does corporations not having free speech rights actually mean?

          What would prevent the government passing a law about what newspapers or book publishers are allowed to print, for example? What defense would exist when a publishing company or a journalism organization is sued for something they published?

          The first amendment would still protect the writers and editors as individuals, of course, so nobody could go after their assets or seek an injunction against them personally, and the government couldn't pass laws about what individuals are allowed to publish on their own - but what would prevent complete and total government control of all publishing other than that done by unincorporated individuals?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 15 Nov 2018 @ 6:06pm

            Re: What does corporations not having free speech rights actuall

            The problem is that it is harder to hold corporations liable for their actions than it is actual people. You can’t put a corporation in jail, you can only put real flesh-and-blood people in jail.

            So as long as corporations are legally separate from the people who own them, any “rights” that they may have need to be legally separated as well. Perhaps the obvious way to deal with the free-speech issue is to always hold the particular people uttering that speech, whether they claim to speak for the corporation or not, liable for that speech, and not give the responsibility for it to “the corporation”.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2018 @ 8:38pm

              Re: Re: What does corporations not having free speech rights actuall

              Corporations have incorporated liability relief so no single person is actually held accountable for actions that are nothing less than economic terrorism against whole nations of sovereign people. Who is responsible for letting pharmaceutical companies getting away with genocide? The list of those corporate bohemeths is long and unbelievable. You better believe it.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Leigh Beadon (profile), 16 Nov 2018 @ 2:49am

              Re: Re: What does corporations not having free speech rights actuall

              This is so backwards...

              It's much easier to hold corporations liable than individual people - liability is basically the entire point of corporations, and they are subject to far more rules (and enjoy far fewer rights) than people.

              And always treating corporate speech as the speech of individual members of the corporation would just mean they have stronger free speech protections.

              I mean, I just really don't see what you're getting at here. You seem to be saying "the problem is that while the government can easily throw individuals in jail for speech, and that's a good thing, they can't do the same to companies." That... doesn't sound like a great way of looking at it to me.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2018 @ 5:37am

                Re: Re: Re: What does corporations not having free speech rights actuall

                It costs a lot of cha-ching to bring a corporation to the bargaining table and a lot more to make them cough up the cash for injuries or damages they have been found liable for. That makes the whole system suck if you have been harmed by them. Its harder and harder to find a team of lawyers to go up against some of these giants.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  Leigh Beadon (profile), 16 Nov 2018 @ 9:10am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: What does corporations not having free speech rights actuall

                  And THAT's a good example of a systemic problem that needs fixing. But it has nothing to do with "corporate personhood" or with corporations having first amendment protections.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • identicon
                    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 16 Nov 2018 @ 6:34pm

                    Re: corporations having first amendment protections

                    I don’t see why corporations need such protections in their own right. Give such protections to the people who work for them and who own them, by all means. But let them have it personally, directly, not through the corporation. Because they are real people, and the corporation is not.

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                    • icon
                      Leigh Beadon (profile), 17 Nov 2018 @ 9:25am

                      Re: Re: corporations having first amendment protections

                      But that's precisely WHY a corporation has rights - because the people who run it have rights.

                      I still don't understand what it means to say revoke the first amendment from corporations.

                      So like, congress may not create a law telling people what they can and can't publish, but it CAN create a law blocking you from incorporating and publishing what you want? The government could shut down the New York Times and CNN, it just couldn't do anything to the people who work there? How is that helpful?

                      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • identicon
                    Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2018 @ 2:30pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What does corporations not having free speech rights actuall

                    When there is sufficient evidence that an individual has been harmed by a corporation, the government should supply the legal team to confront those corporate lawyers in court free of charge.

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                Mason Wheeler (profile), 16 Nov 2018 @ 6:56am

                Re: Re: Re: What does corporations not having free speech rights actuall

                liability is basically the entire point of corporations

                No. Protection from liability is basically the entire point of corporations. And in some cases that makes a lot of sense--it would be a travesty of justice if you, as a shareholder, were to be held responsible for corporate crimes because the person managing your 401(k) thought there was a lot of upside potential in PuppyKickers Inc. stock, for example--but when it shields decision makers from responsibility for the consequences of the decisions they make, as is all too often the case in today's world, the system is broken.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  Leigh Beadon (profile), 16 Nov 2018 @ 9:09am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: What does corporations not having free speech rights actuall

                  It's interesting to me that you don't seem to have any level of specificity to what you are proposing - even though I've pressed for those details and offered several examples of how your vague, blanket statements about what's needed don't make a lot of sense.

                  All you are offering is generalized ideas based on the false perception that there's a big clear chasm between "regular ol' people" and "evil corporations!!!!"

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • identicon
                    Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2018 @ 1:19pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: What does corporations not having free speech rights actuall

                    Some regular 'ol EVIL people cloak themselves with the armour of a corporation before doing business. A choice given to them by the US Constitution.

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2018 @ 8:30pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            For that matter what right does this usurped government have making 100 mile constitution free zones around the perimeter of a sovereign nation? If tHEY can do that, tHEY can do any fucking thing tHEY want ti do.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2018 @ 9:20pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Corporations that suddenly had the rights the citizens have and wield enmasse at times would not be like an ordinary citizen. The infinitely deep pocket afford corporations the power to drive humanity into total obscurity. It would be the end if these corporations get their sovereignty. Corporations should be getting taxed a flat rate off the top to put back into the infrastructure humans need.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Leigh Beadon (profile), 15 Nov 2018 @ 5:52pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          It's a great idea, but the reality is it'll never "take" as long as corporate personhood remains a thing

          Corporate personhood is not "a thing", it's just a vague concept describing the ongoing question of precisely what constitutional rights corporations have. It's not some switch that gets turned on and off - so you saying it needs to be eliminated is pretty meaningless. You have to describe what change to the rights afforded to corporations you are actually envisioning, with at least some level of detail.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2018 @ 8:49pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            If corporations are persons then buying and selling them should be illegal.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Leigh Beadon (profile), 16 Nov 2018 @ 2:49am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Okay. But they're not, so... er, what?

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
                identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2018 @ 6:31am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                Okay. But they're not, so... er, what?

                You would say "so what" to owning, buying and selling people?
                Wow. Just wow.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  Toom1275 (profile), 16 Nov 2018 @ 7:23am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  Reading comprehension is nice. I recommend you give it a try sometime.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  Leigh Beadon (profile), 16 Nov 2018 @ 9:03am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  Better try reading my comment again...

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • identicon
                    TDR, 16 Nov 2018 @ 12:43pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                    So you say treat corporations like people when it benefits them, but not when it doesn't? Rather convenient for them, but still wrong. If they're defined as people, then they must fall into and ahdere to all the conditions and restraints that real people are supposed to abide by.

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Christenson, 15 Nov 2018 @ 4:55pm

      Re: What to do?

      That "First Word" badge is well deserved.

      To my mind, the situation can be stated as follows: The advertising-supported gatekeepers of yore used to have a code of ethics because they couldn't afford to piss off their advertisers, so we got a few generations of ethical journalists.

      Internet comes along, with roughly the same ethics and values.

      Then it is opened to "the public", and we find out that half of the public doesn't care about ethics or truth, and repeats whatever tin foil hat nonsense that comes along. Mainstream news decides they can't piss off the tinfoil hatters, so they don't write headlines like "Pres Nonsense: Barefoot Caravan 1000 miles away requires border troops now".

      No, I don't want to appoint *anyone* decider of tin-foil hat -ism. Free speech has to be a thing, and separating the wheat from the chaff from the toxic waste is difficult. It is also difficult enough as it is to determine whether a speaker is corporate or not, and if so, which corporation that is.

      I see this latest iteration of bad behavior from Facebook as a sign that Silicon Valley is not immune to the corrupting forces from back east.

      But I think that asking that all corporations *disclose* their speech and their source(s) of income is becoming more and more appropriate, That is, you can say whatever you want, but we have to know that, since you are a corporation, it is you that is saying it. Sunlight is the best known disinfectant.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2018 @ 12:58am

        Re: Re: What to do?

        Disinformation coming from a corporation is a crime. Disinformation from a citizen probably should be regulated.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John Smith, 15 Nov 2018 @ 1:09pm

    Isn't "smear merchant" some type of tinfoil-hat meme believed only by delusional conspiracy theorists on sites like <inser smear-merchant websites favored by attorneys here]?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2018 @ 1:22pm

      Re:

      Not that I am aware of, no. If you believe it to be so, do you have evidence to this effect?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2018 @ 3:32pm

        Re: Re:

        Fuck no he doesn’t. The one constant about Johnny boy other than his whining, is his near fatal allergy to evidence.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2018 @ 2:10pm

      Re: post 3 day psych hold

      Was “Smear Merchant” the name of your band, or the name of one of your self help books, or was it the name of the movie production company you owned?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        John Smith, 16 Nov 2018 @ 1:28am

        Re: Re: post 3 day psych hold

        Nice mouth for someone hidind behind an internet connection.

        Wonder if this site's advertisers realize hnow much hate speech is here. Perhaps they have no issue with it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2018 @ 7:03pm

      Re:

      Coming from the guy who claims someone is mimicking him? And ordered police investigations?

      Yeah... you're not one to start bitching about conspiracy theorists, John.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Johhn Smith, 16 Nov 2018 @ 1:31am

        Re: Re:

        Aww someone's taking their absolute irrelevance out on me again. How quaint.

        The ongoing fixation is disturbing to law enforcement given that so many recent active shooters began with verbal aggression online. The sites which incubate this speech are of particular interest.

        If law enforcement weren't involved I'd be defending myself. Don't have to. The high road is always better. Doesn't raise those "about to snap" red flags that those who send them up always pretend they do not.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2018 @ 1:51am

          Re: Re: Re: poor old crazy jhon

          And you are taking your absolute inpotence out on us again. Hey bro the cops still investigating mike cyber-whale-ninja-barristers who stole the book you didn’t write? The only red flags here are the massive waves of insanity you give off. By the way how was that three day psych hold? They serve you some nice pudding?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2018 @ 6:12pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Threats are not your strong suit, Johnny boy.

          The way you pull threats off, it just makes you look like you're overcompensating.

          You don't need anyone to mimic you, anyway; no matter what geolocation snowflake appears next to your fake name, whatever follows is nothing but absolute drivel. If that's the "high road" to you, I have a bridge to sell you in exchange for your self-help books.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 15 Nov 2018 @ 1:13pm

    It's like Facebook hiring *Weekly Standard* as a "fact" checker.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2018 @ 1:18pm

    I see quite a lot of dissonance on this site regarding speech. Mike is calling out chilling effects on a daily basis and advocates that any law forcing policing will have collateral effects he is uncomfortable with. In this instance Karl is advocating against disinformation campaigning.
    While I can see a room for arguing campaigners abusing their free speech rights, it is going to be darn near impossible to stop them. At some point you can only write frustrated articles about a status quo that seems to be somewhat self-inflicted.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2018 @ 2:08pm

      Re: The biggest of the liars is blue

      WhataboutSoros?

      As if we needed more proof you were a pants on head retarded, racist, right wing nut job.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        John Smith, 15 Nov 2018 @ 3:24pm

        Re: Re: The biggest of the liars is blue

        I find a good rule for choosing with whom one associates is to rule out people who call others names they would never tolerate others calling them.

        Exactly how this person would react to being called these names is not clear but I'm guessing they wouldn't find it very tolerable.

        It IS possible to disagree with someone without using it as an excuse to verbally abuse. The verbal abuser is revealing something about themselves, much more than offering any insight into their target.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2018 @ 3:33pm

          Re: Re: Re: The biggest of the liars is blue

          I find a good rule is to point and laugh at hypocrites like yourself.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2018 @ 8:48pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: The biggest of the liars is blue

            .. I find a good rule is to point ..

            Did you even have a mother? And if so, didn't she teach you, "Its not polite to point?"

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2018 @ 9:56pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: The biggest of the liars is blue

              It could be a bot! Does Mike even check? They can be tricky.. those bots! And not very polite either!

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2018 @ 10:30pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: The biggest of the liars is blue

              You sound triggered. Best to retreat to your safe space and not resort to grade school insults until you calm down.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 15 Nov 2018 @ 2:12pm

      Re: The biggest of the astroturfers

      Was expecting tinfoil hat, red yarn on a bulletin board nuttiness... was not disappointed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        John Smith, 16 Nov 2018 @ 1:25am

        Re: Re: The biggest of the astroturfers

        Those who impute "nuttiness" on others really need a better mirror

        Mike's got a very big internet mouth, that's for sure. Bet the chicks really dig the way he speaks.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2018 @ 3:12pm

      Re: The biggest of the astroturfers

      Are you responding to something in the article or comments or simply ranting randomly on various websites?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    John Smith, 16 Nov 2018 @ 1:38am

    Techdirt is a hate-speech incubator

    There are now enough examples of hate speech being tolerated on this website to notify its sponsors that the site encourages hate speech and its advertisers should be demonetized.

    Some advertisers probably won't care, but they can be put on notice, and should be.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2018 @ 1:54am

      Re: Jhon is a limp-dick incubator

      Do it. Although we all know you won’t because you’re impotent and you will say you did with out providing evidence because you can’t.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 16 Nov 2018 @ 7:23am

      Re: Techdirt is a hate-speech incubator

      There are now enough examples of hate speech being tolerated on this website

      [citation nonexistant]

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2018 @ 7:28am

      Re: Techdirt is a hate-speech incubator

      Oh, there's been hate speech incubating on Techdirt for a long time. antidirt's been asking everyone he disagrees with to die in a fire for over a decade now. Once he even demanded that Otis Wright, the judge who oversaw the Prenda Law case, be put in a wood chipper.

      Here's the thing, Johnny boy. As the usual fucktards like your buddy out_of_the_blue says, nobody reads this website. The FBI doesn't care about the "hate speech" you keep moaning about.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2018 @ 1:37pm

        Re: Re: Techdirt is a hate-speech incubator

        ..nobody reads this website..

        I believe the site is hilighted daily with the rest of the President's daily briefs!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    nae such, 16 Nov 2018 @ 7:45am

    does anybody else get the impression that facebook tried to play the same lobbying and news spin nonsense as their more experienced and entrenched opponents and is being outplayed at every turn?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2018 @ 8:09am

    I am still waiting for Texas to execute a corporation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ed (profile), 16 Nov 2018 @ 8:49am

    The Sandberg interview on CBSNews is so ludicrous it is comical. She is so obviously lying, it is as if she's being puppeted by Trump. I hope this is the beginning of the end of Facebook. Let it become the new MySpace (empty).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    GEMont, 16 Nov 2018 @ 12:59pm

    The Sleeping Giant still sleeps.

    Damn, it would be ever so much nicer if there was a few ideas on how to fix the situation being aired here.

    But, apparently, nobody has a single clue as to solutions because no two people can agree on what is actually amiss.

    Why is that?

    In a word; dis-information.

    Dis-information is one of the major tools of Fascism.

    Dis-information; otherwise known as lying, deception and outright bullshit, should be illegal.

    In fact, it should be considered a form of treason, since it attempts to thwart the public's ability to make correct political and domestic decisions, allowing criminals to enter and hold political office, operate businesses and purchase/write reverse-able criminal friendly laws.

    Solutions people.

    As long as you all just bicker over what is wrong, the bad guys keep winning and everything just gets worse.

    Clue: EVERYTHING is wrong. The system itself, from vote to press is fucked and needs fixing. There is no single panacea for the current situation.

    Then again, I suppose if ye all just keep beating each other over the head with personal slurs, you won't have to do a thing. It will be done for you by those who are making truck-loads of money from your confusion and inaction - the Billionaires and Millionaires of America.

    And then, it will of course, be too late to do anything - which is the intended purpose of fascist dis-information.

    ---

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2018 @ 1:42pm

      Re: The Sleeping Giant still sleeps.

      Hillary Clinton said, "The BIG LIE is just a tool." So apparently disinformation is not just being used by the fascists you know, but by everyone who knows them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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