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  • Nov 30th, 2018 @ 11:29am

    Ecosystem metaphors and unpleasant speech

    A second complaint from users may derive from data collection … it may affect the kind of content she encounters, which … may serve … to "radicalize" her, anger her, or otherwise disturb her.

    This is the complaint about data collection? Not the use of collected data (possibly from private communications) to profile speakers, and the dissemination of that data to domestic and foreign governments? The chilling effect created by the nowhere-to-hide paradigm of mass data collection is a major threat to speech and should be far more disturbing than chance exposure to unpleasant content.

    But this exaggerated emphasis on “bad speech” leads me to question the drift of “ecosystem” metaphors. When concerns about the emotional impact of speech are raised to the same level of importance as government censorship, the “ecosystem” language makes it far too easy to argue for the suppression of unpleasant speech—after all, if speech is an ecosystem, shouldn’t “harmful” and “viral” elements be excluded from our habitat?

    While I agree that the binary government ⇔ citizen model is too simple, we should be wary of biological metaphors that (among other things) suggest it’s reasonable to suppress upsetting speech. Our traditional, simplistic model nevertheless includes a commitment to the belief that, while we should all enjoy free speech, free speech is not always enjoyable, and that intellectual maturity is essential to living in a free society. Any “ecosystem” model that lacks such a commitment is, IMHO, doomed to be abused by the powerful and hypersensitive.

  • Nov 20th, 2018 @ 12:35pm


    Thank GOD this website is speaking up for the big guy.

    And you, John Smith, since apparently you have the freedom to comment here, um, on the Internet.

    The internet is a PURGE where normal laws don't apply, where people have no right to defend their reputation, or their copyright

    (1) “Normal” law applies to the Internet—try committing fraud and see how far “I used a network connection to do it!” gets you as a defense. (2) See 1, libel laws are frequently used to remove content from the Internet. (3) Ever hear of content being taking down following a copyright claim? I know, it happens so infrequently…

    Perhaps in your next comment you might try to respond to the article rather than spewing frequently-debunked talking points.

  • Nov 20th, 2018 @ 12:17pm


    After a valiant struggle, Mason Wheeler tackles his strawman, Future of Freedom style.

    The Tahrir Square protests and the subsequent Arab Spring were absolutely an “upsurge in democracy”, regardless of whether you approve of the governments that these movements elected.

  • Nov 9th, 2018 @ 11:48am

    Re: Re: 9 strikes

    >Like only sending those notices to the @ISP email everyone gets when they signup for internet, but few actually check…


  • Nov 8th, 2018 @ 3:15pm

    Re: The Internet isn't everything, nor the only thing

    Indeed. Tech policy was clearly a very low priority for most candidates in the recent election. Case in point: After pestering the leading House candidate in my district for something approaching an Internet policy, I received a sentence about “<J. Random Candidate> believes strongly in modernizing our nation’s military to deal with emerging cyber threats.”

    Techdirt complains rightly that the US Congress is embarassingly (or conveniently) ignorant on most tech issues. But how can the situation be improved when most candidates clearly don’t see any political advantage in knowing, well, anything about these subjects?

  • Nov 8th, 2018 @ 6:06am


    I mean, if you do a bare minimum glance at gaming groups you will find more than their fair share led by people that have some extreme right wing views.

    [citation needed]

  • Oct 25th, 2018 @ 10:37pm

    Not censoring the public

    It seems that many commentators had some difficulty understanding this article. The UK government is not banning British citizens from using the phrase, but only its own members. Since governments—including, as Tim points out, some of the worst regimes on the planet—have been the worst abusers of the term “fake news”, this is indeed a good move.

    Stopping government officials from muddying the waters with garbage phrases like this is, I think, a net positive for free speech. Consider the (first) US Red Scare: if the McCarthy-era government had required officials to use the word “communist” to refer to those and only those people proved to members of the Communist party, would things have been a bit more sane? Quite possibly.

  • Oct 11th, 2018 @ 6:17pm

    More of this, please

    On some issues, some elected officials do try to get things right and serve the people they represent. It's unfortunate that this bill will probably die, but, if it is killed, there will have been at least one congressperson who wasn't pandering to election sponsors.

    Rather than trying to win internet points with witty comments about corruption, we should encourage this kind of behavior from representatives.

  • Sep 27th, 2018 @ 10:01pm

    Re: Re:

    I'd be happy to be proven incorrect if you can provide a citation or two.

    The previous post did provide a citation, which it seems that you did not bother to read:


    Even Facebook has been forced to acknowledge that this policy has put users in real danger.

    In my mind, the likely scenarios (barring police surveillance) are a) getting caught posting something you probably should have known not to say with your real name attached (e.g. posting negative shit about your boss and getting fired) or b) being one of the people who really does need anonymity because you post about controversial things.

    This is extremely narrow-minded. Depending on the country, LGBT people, atheists, activists and those exercising basic free speech rights in criticizing their governments or institutions are regularly targeted for expressing themselves on the Internet. In these places, anonymity is very much a life-or-death issue. It should not be necessary to remind anyone on here of this.

    why were you on FB in the first place? Why not Twitter or Instagram or any other social media platform that doesn't have this rule?

    The existence of less invasive alternatives does not justify a harmful and unnecessary policy.

  • Sep 27th, 2018 @ 2:49pm

    (untitled comment)


    People like breaking rules and a handful of moderators per millions of users can't really keep up. We expect this kind of juvenile bullshit from average jerks like you and me, but shouldn't we be expecting more from our public servants?

    I understand that this is tongue-in-cheek, but it’s a poor choice of phrasing. It probably goes without saying here on Techdirt, but creating an pseudonymous account isn’t “juvenile bullshit”, it’s sometimes a life-or-death decision. Facebook’s real-name policy is extremely dangerous and has already caused harm to users. As gratifying as it is to see people get caught abusing the service for surveillance, it should be 100% clear that this policy is unacceptable.

  • Sep 25th, 2018 @ 8:37pm

    Re: First big test, and you suddenly don't like legalisms.


    I’ve finally figured it out. Your peculiar grammar betrays you as Dr. Bronner’s demented brother. Is it possible to order some of your MAGIC Common Law UNMODERATED “Soap” directly?

  • Sep 25th, 2018 @ 8:29pm

    The problem with vague laws

    A perfectly satisfactory ruling: “None of you are doing anything wrong under this law, so relax. In fact, it’s such a clear law that no one could even reasonably accuse you of doing anything wrong! Why are you even here, let’s get a sandwich.”

    And tomorrow some other court will rule the other way entirely.

    As a side note, did the ex post facto aspect of FOSTA not lift any eyebrows?

  • Sep 17th, 2018 @ 5:48pm

    Re: region licenses

    Does Apple state that “purchases” made through iTunes are in fact rentals, and that access to content depends on you paying a new license fee each time you move?

    No? In that case, they must claw the license fee out of their own funds.

    If they’re unhappy with a copyright system that creatues these situations, it behooves them to throw their massive weight behind reform, rather than passing the pain on to their customers.

  • Aug 28th, 2018 @ 9:52am

    Re: Re:

    If the John Cage Estate starts enforcing their copyrights, we’re all totally screwed.

  • Aug 24th, 2018 @ 4:21pm

    Re: Too bad it was so little...

    I believe this non-argument has been used against virtually every whistleblower in recent memory—Manning, Snowden, Drake, Ellsberg, etc. You might consider the slightly less popular “vengeful loner” and “sexual deviant” smears to mix it up a bit.

    Or you could attempt to contribute something worth reading.

  • Aug 24th, 2018 @ 3:46pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Why would you not draw the crucial distinction between (a) in the interest of catalyzing change, making information on government wrongdoing available to the citizens who elect that government, and (b) secretly handing information to hostile groups--and only to hostile groups--in the interest of harming a country?

    If you don't recognize a difference between these two actions, how is 'whistleblowing' possible?

  • Aug 24th, 2018 @ 11:34am


    ... with the express intent of exfiltrating classified information because she hates her country.

    Your use of 'exfiltrating' without an object is revealing. Do you differentiate between releasing information to a journalistic outlet and providing it to a hostile government?

    You also imply that Winner released what she did to The Intercept because she couldn’t find something that was not “relatively innocuous”. Do you have a source for this claim?

    Furthermore: regardless of your opinion of Winner's motives, her feelings about the US do not make her actions more or less espionage. The crucial point—though obscured by the really awful Espionage Act—is that Winner released documents relating to an issue of public importance (and which did not put any member of the US government in danger) to a news organization. This clearly seems to be the act of someone working in what she considered to be the public interest. Are you arguing that her opinions about the US government make this a criminal act, or is the release itself "despicable"?

  • Jul 18th, 2018 @ 2:40pm

    Re: Invaluable to the rest of us

    Correction: It was Symantec’s pcAnywhere source code that was posted, not voting machine software. But of course the point is the same.

  • Jul 18th, 2018 @ 2:28pm

    Invaluable to the rest of us

    Quoth Zetter:

    Source code is invaluable to hackers because it allows them to examine the code to find security flaws they can exploit.

    It’s unqualified claims like this that allow voting machine designers to avoid open-sourcing their products. I’d like to think he’s using “hacker” in the old sense of the word, but probably not. Either way, this statement is both too specific and misleading. Source code is also invaluable to those who want to understand/audit this crucial software, and making source code publicly available is, of course, good for security.

    The idea that, for the public’s safety, voting source code should only be available to some NDA-bound developer priesthood needs to be killed dead.

  • Jul 11th, 2018 @ 11:44am

    Good article!

    Thanks very much for this exceptionally informative (re)post. It’s interesting that Facebook’s lack of easy access to social data (for users, at least) is a major factor in locking-in its users. Few articles (and, one might guess, legislators) understand this particular subtlety.

    Activity Streams is a fascinating idea. As Kevin notes, the challenge of mapping “activity” between arbitrary platforms is a big one, but this is a concrete attempt to solve it.

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