Hypocrite FCC Commissioner Cheers On Zoom Block Usage By Person He Disagrees With; While Insisting Social Media Shouldn't Block People

from the want-to-try-that-again-brendan? dept

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr has been first in line to gleefully pump up the still-unsubstantiated-by-any-evidence claim that social media companies are "unfairly censoring conservatives." In fact, he's been very vocal about the idea that social media should not be blocking anyone for their political beliefs. Just a few months ago he attacked "conservative bias and threats to free speech on the internet," saying that "doing nothing is not the answer." He's complained loudly about when Twitter briefly banned an infamous Twitter troll/Republican political operative for harassment, saying (falsely) that it was "censorship on social media and an attempt by social media "gatekeepers" to "launch a war on memes so they can control the 2020 narrative." No, dude. It was Twitter following its rules against harassment.

Oh, and here's my favorite. Back in 2016, he happily quoted his then-boss Ajit Pai saying "the impulse to squelch free speech on college campuses is anything but progressive."

Can you take a wild guess where this is heading? I know that you can.

Last week there was yet another hyped up culture war nonsense thing, when some conservative websites started freaking out that two faculty members at San Francisco State were planning to host a webinar/roundtable conversation with one of the participants being Leila Khaled, considered to be the first woman to hijack a plane. She hijacked two planes -- one in 1969 and one in 1970 -- as part of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. In 1997 (many years later) the State Department designated the PFLF as a foreign terrorist group.

This resulted in many arguing that merely allowing Khaled to speak with students was somehow a violation of laws against material support for terrorists. This is wrong. Some people point to the ruling in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, in which the Supreme Court (somewhat awkwardly) upheld the law against material support for terrorism, saying that groups that were seeking to support humanitarian or legal projects associated with terrorist groups could not do so.

But that's not what's happening here. This was just some professors hosting a Zoom call. As FIRE points out, there does not seem to be any realistic way to argue that Khaled being on a Zoom call violates the law:

The Lawfare Project went further, calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to “take appropriate action” against the SFSU faculty members for hosting the discussion and Zoom for broadcasting it, alleging that the discussion amounts to material support for terrorism in violation of federal law. Rep. Doug Lamborn joined this call, asking United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin to open investigations into — and cut all federal funding to — the university, arguing that Khaled cannot be given a “platform” because it is “aiding the dissemination of terrorist propaganda” and is “not speech or academic inquiry.”

That’s unlikely. First, we’re not aware of any indication that Khaled will be compensated for her virtual appearance, meaning the only conceivable “support” provided is the virtual forum for the discussion — in other words, speech. The Supreme Court’s pronouncement on the intersection of the First Amendment and “material support for terrorism” laws — Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project— is muddled, but focused on the “fungible” nature of the training provided to prohibited organizations, as it allowed the organizations to become more efficient. But the Court also pointedly noted that the law does not prohibit being a member of the organization, just providing it with “material” support. In other words, association — even membership — with an organization is protected by the First Amendment.

Second, Holder should not be read to enshrine no-platforming into federal law. Universities should be places where students and faculty can discuss — and hear from — people whose acts or views may be controversial or unlawful. Students and faculty members must remain free to invite speakers — whether they agree with them or not — without fear of censorship or punishment by administrator, bureaucrat, or politician. The First Amendment extends a right not only to speak, but also a right to hear or receive information. This right makes no exception for people who have engaged in misdeeds, criminal activity, or membership in blacklisted organizations. Indeed, in Kleindienst v. Mandel, although the First Amendment did not require the federal government to grant a visa to a communist speaker, the Supreme Court said it was “loath” to hold that the ability of students and faculty to hear from the speaker by telephone was sufficient to override their interest in the “particular form of access” to face-to-face discussions. If Holder applies here, then there is no form of access available.

You may or may not like Khaled, and you may not approve of her group or her views or her past actions. But what she was looking to do here was purely in the realm of speech. 1st Amendment protected speech. As complaints got louder, Zoom, on whose platform the call was to be held, said that it would not allow the call to be done. That... seems concerning. While private social media companies have every right to determine whose content they wish to host, it gets a lot trickier when we're talking about infrastructure and just the transmission, rather than hosting, of speech.

As some are pointing out Zoom's decision represents a terrible precedent. If you make enough noise, you can block someone from merely presenting. In that article, Mark Gray wonders if a hypothetical 2024 Republican National Convention might be pressured into not being allowed to be broadcast over Zoom because Roger Stone is one of the speakers. After all, he's been convicted of seven felonies. Or what about various convicts who have done their time and now give lectures to warn people about the mistakes they made in the past? Should they not be able to use Zoom?

And, yet, there was Brendan Carr, first in line, to cheer on this decision. He who had so eagerly tweeted against the "impulse to squelch free speech on college campuses" was cheering on a move by a tech company to squelch free speech on campus, saying that you "don't need to hear both sides." When I pointed out to him that this seemed hypocritical he doubled down saying that he has "no issue with a company denying service in this case," because Khaled was a "convicted terrorist who literally hijacked two airplanes where at least one person was shot." Lest you think Khaled shot someone, it was her partner in trying to hijack the plane who got shot. In neither of the two hijackings -- which again, were 50 years ago -- did anyone else die.

But, really, there are two key points here. First, Carr is admitting that his position is hypocritical, and that he does believe that private platforms should be able to deny service in certain cases based on the political views of the individual -- it's just that it seems he supports it when those political views diverge from his own. Carr seems to suggest that an appropriate standard is when someone has been "convicted" of certain crimes. I do wonder, then, if he thinks that no one in prison for murder should have access to phone lines. I mean, that's an area that he, as an FCC Commissioner even has some direct say over. Should, say, Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot and killed some people in Wisconsin be denied access to any phone service?

Second, while I have explained many times why websites should have freedom about whose content they host and whose they do not, it gets much, much, trickier when we're not talking about hosting content, but the mere transmission of content. Zoom is little different from a telephone call. And yet, here, it's blocking people based on political complaints about the speaker's views and the crimes she committed 50 years ago. Even if you disagree with Khaled, and even if you condemn her actions 50 years ago, it seems like a stretch to say she shouldn't be allowed to take part in a Zoom webinar.

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Filed Under: 1st amendment, brendan carr, content moderation, fcc, free speech, infrastructure, leila khaled, pflf, terrorism
Companies: zoom


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2020 @ 11:03am

    You may or many not like Khaled

    Someone forgot to proofread!

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 29 Sep 2020 @ 11:08am

    Be careful of the standards you use, lest they be used on you

    Being convicted of a crime means you can be booted off of a privately owned platform and there's no grounds to object? Well, I can't possibly see that backfiring for members of Trump's cult...

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2020 @ 3:46am

      Re: Be careful of the standards you use, lest they be used on yo

      Being convicted of a crime means you can be booted off of a privately owned platform and there's no grounds to object? Well, I can't possibly see that backfiring for members of Trump's cult...

      Well, it sure backfired for 8chan when Cloudfare and the rest of it's service providers / domain registrar booted it off for having posts about mass shootings sans trial. Seems the only group willing to host their speech afterwards was a Russian hosting provider.

      Only natural to see what else the government can extend this kind of blocking / deplatforming to now given the acceptance and cheering from society on the last one. I'm just surprised that a terrorist has more benefit of the doubt and support for freedom of speech from society than an entire site's userbase.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2020 @ 11:09am

    Carr seems to suggest that an appropriate standard is when someone has been "convicted" of certain crimes.

    So then I guess Carr also believes everyone ever convicted of any (eligible) crime should receive capitol punishment lest they get some platform in the future.

    This seems to suggest that he is 100% sure there are never faulty convictions, and it's impossible for people, who have committed certain crimes, to ever want to change.

    It sounds like Carr is either severely mentally handicap, or is pushing ideas he doesn't actually believe.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2020 @ 11:33am

    Working in the communication business

    So I work in IT, Data Center operations specifically, and before I take any customer, I first do some research on them. I.E. check the SpamHaus ROSKO list, Cisco's Talos Intelligence reputation, et al. We don't host any content for customers, but I don't want to even touch a spam operation, BotNot operators, or DDOS for hire. There's a lot of stuff to watch out for, but you get the idea. Why is that considered a bad thing? Do you really want to support spam, illegal telemarketers, Ransomware operations, et al?
    Now I'm not saying what Zoom did is good or bad, but the idea that a company can't make that decision on it's own customer base is rather vague.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2020 @ 11:41am

      Re: Working in the communication business

      Zoom is perfectly entitled not to host any conversation they feel like. However the rest of us are also perfectly entitled to say "I don't believe that was a good/ethical act, I disprove".

      I'm pretty sure that has Mr. Masnick's point all along (or at least that's what I've always understood as him saying)

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2020 @ 11:51am

      Re: Working in the communication business

      But it wasn't based on it's 'entire coustomer base', as I wasn't included in the survey, were you? This is based on a politician throwing FUD and making a fuss about 'bad stuff online...

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

    • icon
      Cdaragorn (profile), 29 Sep 2020 @ 12:23pm

      Re: Working in the communication business

      but the idea that a company can't make that decision on it's own customer base is rather vague

      It's also not the idea that the author was pushing.

      So let me give a little different perspective on this. When is a person allowed to be forgiven for past misdeeds and when are we willing to recognize that someone has changed? Are you just going to refuse to ever let them back into society (which a company refusing to hire someone over past misdeeds is absolutely doing)? How long does it take or what actions must a person do to finally be seen as worth taking a risk on letting back in?
      If we are unwilling to accept some risk in order to allow people to live life again after making bad choices than we are no better than they are. Indeed I would argue that being unwilling to ever forgive is one of the worst crimes anyone can make.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2020 @ 12:54pm

        Re: Re: Working in the communication business

        It's also not the idea that the author was pushing.
        In all reality it sort of is... Why can't San Francisco State just setup a quick Jitsi server? Use another provider, like Microsoft Teams if they agree to it. It's sort of like saying companies have to do business with anyone and deal with all the political BS that comes along with it. And trust me, this article itself is now implicating Zoom for saying we don't want any part of it. Zoom itself may have no political leaning on the decision, but this is going to effect them either way now just because they were mentioned. Personally, that is the last thing I would want to do to my clients and it's also putting their paying clients at risk from retaliatory attacks to their network infrastructure from DDoS attacks and attempts to take down the Zoom meeting.

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

        • icon
          Samuel Abram (profile), 29 Sep 2020 @ 1:42pm

          Re: Re: Re: Working in the communication business

          Why can't San Francisco State just setup a quick Jitsi server? Use another provider, like Microsoft Teams if they agree to it. It's sort of like saying companies have to do business with anyone and deal with all the political BS that comes along with it.

          The problem with that, is when people in Government like Brendan Carr say "You can't have that anywhere", they'll pressure Microsoft Teams and Google Meet and all other platforms to cancel her appearance. While those companies are within their rights to succumb to pressure like that, as with Alex Jones, it doesn't so much erase the person off of the face of the earth but make them a martyr. If you don't believe me, even Alex Jones had a recent anti-mask protest with decent turnout despite being deplatformed from YouTube, Facebook, iTunes Podcasts, and Twitter.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2020 @ 4:09am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Working in the communication business

            they'll pressure Microsoft Teams and Google Meet and all other platforms to cancel her appearance

            It goes further than that. The article isn't just talking about Zoom, it's referring to the internet in-general:

            While private social media companies have every right to determine whose content they wish to host, it gets a lot trickier when we're talking about infrastructure and just the transmission, rather than hosting, of speech.

            The government could order the ISP / Intermediaries / etc. to drop the packets coming from her with a simple NSL. That would even cover setting up and hosting her own server, regardless of DNS / IP / etc. Such actions would be a blatant violation of the First Amendment (in the US), but Terrorists have a special loophole made just for them to take care of that situation.

            Of course this is an extreme example, but one that is possible none the less. Once this silencing passes without complaint from society, it won't be too much of a stretch for the government to extend it to other lesser crimes.

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

        • icon
          Cdaragorn (profile), 29 Sep 2020 @ 1:49pm

          Re: Re: Re: Working in the communication business

          You're free to make most whatever decisions you want.
          You are not free to make everyone else shut up about how wrong your choice or the reasons you have for making that choice are. If you don't want that either don't make decisions most people will disagree with or get out of the business.

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

          • icon
            Ehud Gavron (profile), 29 Sep 2020 @ 2:07pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Working in the communication business

            You're free to make most whatever decisions you want.
            Roger that.

            You are not free to make everyone else shut up
            Roger that.

            You are, however, free to make everyone else shut up on YOUR limited private platform.

            If you don't want that either don't make decisions most people will disagree with or get out of the business.

            So "agree with the majority or else"? The minority never gets a voice OR if they do the company goes out of business?

            That's not democracy.

            E

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2020 @ 4:41pm

      Re: Working in the communication business

      Cool if any old sort of phone company does that? No, this one call can't be made because reasons?

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

  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 29 Sep 2020 @ 12:50pm

    To be fair…

    I think Brandon Carr has to be a hypocritical schmendrick. Otherwise, he'd end up like Mike O'Rielly if he had any principle.

    Or he could legit be an unprincipled schmuck. Then again, maybe it's both…

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

  • icon
    Ehud Gavron (profile), 29 Sep 2020 @ 1:39pm

    First Am Rights

    OB DISC: I'm from Israel so it's assumed I'm anti anyone who is against Israel. Not so.

    What she did 50 years ago is almost irrelevant. She's paid her debt to society. I say "almost" because she still has a perspective to share. That can be relevant.

    Zoom, Facebook, Microsoft, TechDirt, Slashdot, all exist as private companies which choose which content to share. (Mike's many posts on content moderation included by reference.)

    That Zoom chose to censor this talk is... in my opinion... wrong. However, the talk could have been taken to any number of other platforms such as MS, Skype, WebEx, etc. The message there is "Hey Zoom, you start censoring our chats... and we'll stop scheduling them on your platform."

    Does Zoom care? Who cares? If FB really censored everything that was libelous, stupid, churlish, annoying, white nationalist, republican (oh sorry to repeat myself) would people stop using FB?

    If they did it would send a message.

    Maybe it's time Zoom got a message. I just don't think it's "wrong" of them to censor. It's their right. Just as it is OUR RIGHT to say "thanks so much for your censorship; we're going somewhere else."

    See you on Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Skype [MS], meet.jit.si, or any non-Zoom product.

    Ehud

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 29 Sep 2020 @ 2:12pm

    Funny side,

    "Should, say, Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot and killed some people in Wisconsin be denied access to any phone service?"

    Would be interesting to take to court. As the phone services charges $$ amount per minute, and thats Lost revenue to the service. And he could make Hundreds of calls. That the receiver/lawyer has to pay.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2020 @ 2:44pm

    "Convicted" terrorist

    because Khaled was a "convicted terrorist who literally hijacked two airplanes where at least one person was shot."

    Pardon, but to me, "convicted" has a specific term: "found guilty in a court of law". Even if you extend that to foreign courts, I have found no record of her being convicted, in the sense that the word is being used here.

    Guilty of? Without a doubt. Persona non grata? Almost certainly. Convicted? [citation please].

    TWA Flight 840: The two hijackers were released without charges.
    El Al flight 219: Released in exchange for hostages, from US pressure.

    Perhaps one of you gents will find that she was indeed convicted somewhere, some when. Until then, use your words carefully. There will be a test when you publish them.

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

    • icon
      Ehud Gavron (profile), 29 Sep 2020 @ 3:30pm

      Re: "Convicted" terrorist

      Lots of links call her "convicted" but I also can find no reference to such a finding by a court of law. Still, she hijacked two planes. That's the problem when you start accepting hijackers as law-abiding citizens.

      Donald Trump hasn't been convicted of tax fraud, grabbing women by their private parts without their permission, cheating US taxpayers out of millions of dollars, etc. He's not been convicted of anything.

      Conviction and prison are the end. Accusation is just the beginning.

      E

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Sep 2020 @ 4:46pm

      Re: "Convicted" terrorist

      Complain to Brendan Carr.

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

      • icon
        JoeCool (profile), 30 Sep 2020 @ 5:27am

        Re: Re: "Convicted" terrorist

        Yeah, the sentence in question was a direct quote of Carr, not the writer of the article here. Reading comprehension fail. :)

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 29 Sep 2020 @ 3:58pm

    Wouldnt you think?

    That the FBI/CIA/DHS would love to have sites to monitor to look FOR, those groups trying/deciding to be militant?
    Viva le Facebook.
    A central location to monitor all the idiots.

    Wow, wouldnt it be nice to get BackPage back up with that concept?

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


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