Wait…Why Does Facebook Allow Non-Americans To Censor Our Political Discourse?

That’s impressive: Facebook’s “quasi-independent” review board is even more unethical than I thought.

That board’s membership was in my print version of the New York Times yesterday. If it’s on the web, it’s too well hidden for me, but here is the disturbing part: on the 20 person board, 15 of the “‘experts” don’t live in the United States of America.

Let’s make this clear: as Tom Slater of “Spiked!” correctly points out, Facebook’s banning of Trump ‘represented one of the most terrifying corporate interventions into democratic politics in recent memory. In removing Trump from its platform, used by around 70 per cent of adult Americans, Facebook was effectively standing between a president and his people, depriving him of access to what now constitutes the public square. This is an assault on democracy that makes the surreal storming of the Capitol pale into insignificance.”

Exactly. And to review a decision with massive consequences for our nation and its public, Facebook turns to distant arbiters who 1) have no stake in the fate of the United States at all and 2) lack the cultural values unique to this country of treasuring and protecting free speech and expression.

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Verdict: Facebook’s “Oversight Board” Is An Unethical Farce

kangaroos jury

From the Boston Globe this morning: “The social network’s quasi-independent Oversight Board voted to uphold [Donald Trump’s] ban from the platform after his account was suspended four months ago for inciting violence that led to the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot.”

That tells you all you need to know about the fairness of any such decision involving any organization with “media” in its description. Let’s see:

  • What—THE HELL—is a “quasi-independent” board? Is it independent, or isn’t it? Oh, it’s “kind of” independent, is it? Right. It’s not independent then, and no decision by any body that allows itself to be used in corporate deceit like that can be trusted. Gautam Hans, a technology law and free speech expert and professor at Vanderbilt University, commented that “If any other company decided, well, we’re just going to outsource our decision-making to some quasi-independent body, that would be thought of as ridiculous.”

Yes, that’s because it is ridiculous, for Facebook or “any other company.”

  • President Trump was banned for “inciting violence” when any objective analysis of his words and what happened shows that he did nothing of the kind.
  • The gratuitous use of “deadly” is more of the news media’s attempt to bias public perceptions of the event to Trump’s detriment.

The CYA board—I think that’s a fair description—then said, contradicting itself, “It was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension,” although the board is allowing the penalty to stand. It gave Facebook (of which, remember, it is quasi-independent! Don’t forget that! ) six more months to reexamine the “arbitrary penalty” it imposed on January 7, and then decide on another penalty that reflects the “gravity of the violation and the prospect of future harm.”

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Morning Ethics Warm-up, 4/9/21: You Know, Caring About Ethics Is Not A Psychologically Healthy Place To Be Right Now…

1. I can’t mount the intestinal fortitude to even visit Facebook lately. I’m afraid I’ll snap and write something like, “You people are all such hypocritical assholes, at least 90% of you! For four years, you barfed out post after post mocking the President of the United States, attracting boats of “likes” and “loves” for every misspelled word, every exaggeration, every off-the-cuff dumb remark, and when the mentally-failing President you elected completely blows all trust and credibility in less that three months with material lie after lie, deliberate racially inflammatory statements, and outright stupidity “on steroids,” as he would say, your response is ‘Yeah, but what about Trump?’ You’re all a disgrace to your nation, your society, your various institutions of higher education, and basic principles of logic. To hell with you.”

This week, making a case for a fake infrastructure repair bill that appears to be just another pork-laden giveaway to favored Democratic constituencies, Biden said, among other things, “We’re going to talk about commercial aircraft flying at subsonic speeds, supersonic speeds, be able to figuratively, if you may, if we decide to do it, be able to traverse the world in an hour, travel at 21,000 miles an hour…Imagine a world where you and your family can travel coast to coast without a single tank of gas or in a high-speed train, close to as fast as you can go across the country in a plane!”

The speed of 21,000 miles an hour is about Mach 28, or 28 times the speed of sound. The fastest commercial airplane flies at less than Mach 1. Remember the Concorde? A single fatal accident at that plane’s high speed was enough to kill its commercial use. All it would take is one crash of Biden’s miracle plane, where every soul on board was vaporized, and no one would buy another ticket. Think Hindenburg.

As for Joe’s magic train, it’s ridiculous. The Central Japan Railway Company is testing a train that can go a top speed of 374 miles per hour. The “bullet trains” in Japan operate at about 200 miles per hour. France has a train that has hit a top speed of 357 miles per hour. Biden’s train would go across the continental U.S. at an average speed that is 47 percent faster than the top speed of the fastest prototype trains that exist today—if there were no curves. But, of course, there would be As the New Yorker explained eight years ago:

To cope with centrifugal force, train tracks tilt on curves; the problem is that the train can only tilt so much before either it or the passengers inside tip over, so the curve must get larger and more gradual to safely carry a super-fast train. “Tracks rated for fifty miles per hour need almost no banking and can have a curve radius of fifteen hundred feet, while a train traveling at a hundred and twenty miles per hour needs a track with significant banking, and a minimum curve radius of more than a mile and a half.” A train track designed for a train going 550 miles per hour would have to have an absolutely gargantuan curve radius. Our current system and routes of train tracks would be completely unsafe for a train moving at that speed; it would fly off the tracks at the first curve.

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Saturday Ethics End Notes, 4/3/2021: “Let it be written, let it be done!”

You can’t blame me for featuring this ethics landmark today: On April 3, 1948, President Truman signed the Economic Assistance Act, commonly known as the Marshall Plan, which authorizing the a program to help the nations of a war-torn Europe to rebuild. The effort was designed to stabilize Europe economically and politically so that the Soviet Union would not be able to spread communism further. U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall gave the plan its name with a speech at Harvard University on June 5 of the previous year. He proposed that the European states meet to agree on a program for economic recovery, and that the U.S. would would help fund it. The same month Britain and France invited European nations to send representatives to Paris to follow-through with Marshall’s formula. The USSR, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland declined the invitation. The resulting Committee of European Economic Cooperation eventually presented its plan to Congress, which authorized the “Marshall Plan” on April 2, 1948. The next day, it was signed into law.

  1. It’s that time again! The Cecil B. DeMille classic “The Ten Commandments” airs at 7 p.m. tonight on ABC. I recommend renting it for a few bucks on Amazon Prime: commercials now add a full hour to the movie, which is already one of the longest U.S. films ever made. I watch the 1956 jaw-dropper at least once every year. No movie ever blew my mind like that one did when I saw it as a child, and, I noted with amazement last week when I watched it again, certain scenes still blow my mind now, like the Exodus, easily the greatest crowd scene that ever had been or ever will be. My top ethics notes:
  • The screenplay’s direct condemnation of slavery in Moses’ early speech is remarkable for the period, and gutsy for the most expensive movie ever made (to that point) that needed big audiences from the old Confederate states during the middle of a growing civil rights movement.
  • Like Ted Williams’ home run in his last at bat, DeMille bet everything on his biggest challenge at the end of his career when he had already made Hollywood history and was a living legend….and he succeeded. I admit, I’m a sucker for that. The movie killed him, essentially: CB suffered a heart attack while directing the huge scene where Moses leads the Jews out of Egypt, and never recovered. I’m sure he’d say it was still worth it.
  • As a director, I have learned that the greatest and most frightening challenge is trying to top yourself. I admire the artists who attempt it, and especially those who succeed. DeMille had already made a silent movie version of the story that stood as the top-grossing film of all time until his own talkies broke its record.
  • I cannot think of a better example of the ethical principle that if you are going to do something that matters, do it right and don’t cut corners. Like David O. Selznick’s “Gone With The Wind,” TTC is filled with astounding grace notes and details that are the mark of a perfectionist. On this week’s viewing, I noticed for the first time that when we see Egyptian princess Nefertiri primping in a mirror, her image is dark and indistinct. That’s because glass mirrors were unknown in ancient Egypt: the mirror is polished metal.
  • The 1957 Oscars , which largely snubbed De Mille’s masterpiece, show how bias makes you stupid, and how little the movie community understands its own medium. “The Ten Commandments” was the movie of the year and everyone knew it: it was the top grossing film and had scenes that were immediately recognizable as likely to become legendary (like the parting of the Red Sea.) But most of the Oscars, including Best Picture, went to “Around the World in 80 Days,” the over-stuffed “spectacular”—unwatchable now— made by industry darling Mike Todd. DeMille didn’t even rate a Best Director nomination. He was considered a conservative pariah and a dinosaur, and the “new Hollywood” wouldn’t bring itself to recognize an old pro doing his best work.

2. And now, speaking for the arrogant, biased, not as smart as they think they are people who lie to you daily, Lester Holt! At the 45th Edward R. Murrow Symposium at Washington State University, Holt received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, presumably because they had to find a black journalist to give the thing to. Among his comments, which generally proved the stunning lack of self-awareness of himself and his industry, he said, .

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And The Shackles Tighten Still More: The Continuing Big Tech Censorship Of Donald Trump

Once I would have headlined this post with “Stop Making Me Defend Donald Trump!” But this is no longer about Donald Trump, and readers who can’t figure this out, frankly, are too dense and gullible to read here.

Earlier this week, former President Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump posted on Instagram: “BIG SHOW TONIGHT – I will be joined by President Donald Trump on The Right View!!”

Then, when she posted her “big show,” Facebook took down the video of her interview with the ex-President after sending her an email stating that content with the voice of former President Trump “is not currently allowed on our platforms (including new posts with President Trump speaking).” The Facebook spokesman said the video was not permitted on Facebook and Instagram because of the former president’s indefinite suspension. Facebook also warned that any future posts featuring Trump would also be removed “resulting in additional limitations on accounts that posted it.”

I wouldn’t walk down my stairs to watch Trump be interviewed by Eric Trump’s wife, or just about any interviewer, frankly. Nonetheless, he is a recent President, a former President, a political leader, and an important historical, cultural and political figure in the United States of America, which is allegedly a free country. Millions of members of the public are interested in his words, beliefs and activities, and access to information about those should not be impeded by powerful private companies.

The news media’s embargo on facts and events for its partisan objectives created this slippery slope, and this slide is accelerating. Tech companies and communications corporations are actively controlling what Americans can see, hear, think about, and think. An entire political party and its corrupted “base” are perfectly satisfied with this distortion of democracy. Others are just quietly being misled, and are now the apocryphal slowly boiling frogs, doomed to have teeth ripping at the flesh of their legs before they understand what has happened to them.

Meanwhile, anyone–like me—seeing something ominous in this is a “conspiracy theorist”—you know, liars and wackos. Why would anyone see a conspiracy at work when a major political figure approximately half the nation voted for to be President less than four months ago is erased from the public eye and ear by a joint campaign stretching across the airwaves and the internet? Crazy!

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Ethics Dunce: NYT Columnist David Brooks, Weaving A Web Of Conflicts

Weave-logo

I figured out a long time ago that David Brooks, one of the alleged conservative voices among the New York Times’ swollen gang of knee-jerk Angry Leftists, was a hypocrite and fraud with barely a hint of genuine integrity. Now comes the proof.

In 2019, Brooks introduced Times readers to his vision of “Weavers,” a movement to fight social isolation by “building community and weaving the social fabric” across the nation. In a Times column called “A Nation of Weavers,” Brooks wrote that he had launched Weave at the Aspen Institute, a prominent think tank based in Washington, DC. Brooks went on to author several columns to praise and promote Weave. He also had other columns mentioning, positively, Facebook, its founder Mark Zuckerberg, andFacebook’s products and activities.

Facebook, unreported by Brooks or his paper, had contributed $250,000 to the Aspen Institute to help launch Weave in 2018.

Now, thanks to Buzzfeed, we learn that Brooks has been drawing a second salary for his work on Weave, meaning that he is being paid at least in part through the largess of Facebook. He has not mentioned any of this in his columns. Thus, when David Brooks promoted the good work of Weave, he is using his Times column to do work that he is being paid for by someone else, and secretly advancing the interests of Facebook and the Aspen Institute, not because the columnist objectively has concluded that they warrant it, but because he benefits financially when they benefit.

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Law And Ethics Notes

ethics and law

I’m desperately trying to meet a course materials deadline so my brain is stuck on law right now. Here are are few items of general interest:

1. As expected, the Supreme Court passed on the various cases involving the election, ruling them moot, which indeed they are. Thomas and Alito dissented, with Gorsuch joining with Alito, on the grounds that it would be prudent to take up the issues involved in those cases now, to avoid a repeat in the next election.

Justice Thomas wrote:

“The Constitution gives to each state legislature authority to determine the ‘Manner’ of federal elections,” Yet both before and after the 2020 election, nonlegislative officials in various States took it upon themselves to set the rules instead. As a result, we received an unusually high number of petitions and emergency applications contesting those changes.”

Thomas argued that the cases Republican Party of Pennsylvania v. Veronica DeGraffenreid (2021) and Jake Corman v. Pennsylvania Democratic Party (2021) presented “a clear example” of election law issues that the Supreme Court should settle, writing

“The Pennsylvania Legislature established an unambiguous deadline for receiving mail-in ballots: 8 p.m. on election day. Dissatisfied, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court extended that deadline by three days. That decision to rewrite the rules seems to have affected too few ballots to change the outcome of any federal election. But that may not be the case in the future. These cases provide us with an ideal opportunity to address just what authority nonlegislative officials have to set election rules, and to do so well before the next election cycle. The refusal to do so is inexplicable.”

Oh, I can explain it. The Court doesn’t want to inject a destabilizing element into what is already dangerously widespread suspicion about the election. An opinion that said, in essence, “This was illegal, and some illicit votes were allowed to count that shouldn’t, probably not enough to change the results, but at this point, who knows?” would not be helpful or wise.

2. If you think a lawyer looking like a cat at a hearing is bad, or appearing before a judge on Zoom in pajamas, or a professor being on mute for two hours while lecturing remotely, consider this: Peruvian defense lawyer Héctor Cipriano Paredes Robles was taking part in a virtual hearing when his video feed began to show him stripping naked, and engaging in enthusiastic sex with a naked woman.The judge, John Chahua Torres, tried to alert Robles that the hearing participants could see him and his partner’s multiple positions on the live feed, but the lawyer was, uh, busy.

“We are witnessing obscene acts which represent a violation of public decency and are aggravated by the fact they are being recorded nationally!” Judge Torres said.

Good point.

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Valentine’s Day Ethics Warm-Up: “Ya Gotta Love Ethics!”

valentines-day-hearts-9

I’m going to see if I can get through this entire post without mentioning yesterday’s acquittal of Donald Trump. There’s a whole other post around the corner for that. Let’s see.

I was sorely tempted to post the simple word “Good!” to my Facebook feed, but resisted the temptation. All it would have accomplished was to trigger some genuinely, or at least formerly, nice and reasonable people….who have nonetheless been smug, abusive, irrational, nasty, obsessed, hateful and harmful to the culture and society since November 2016. And as much as the Duke in “McClintock!” is an inspiration…

…I won’t. At least, not right now.

1, And the audacious hypocrisy continues! To a ridiculous and childish extent, too. Here’s Dr. Jill Biden’s kindergarten-style, “do as we say not as we do,” signaling-virtue-while-not-actually-engaging-in-it White House lawn display.

Biden diaplay

How nauseating.

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Is It Ethical For Responsible Americans To Remain On Facebook?

Facebook-Censorship

There was some sort of good news but also seriously ominous news regarding Facebook’s increasingly brazen efforts to distort public debate and to use its power to restrict free speech. Unfortunately, the good news wasn’t nearly good enough, and the rest might just be the proverbial straw that breaks the metaphorical camel’s back, at least for me.

On the slightly positive side was that the giant social media platform has reversed several instances of content removal after review by the company’s “independent” (I am not convinced how independent it is) oversight body. Facebook’s new 20-member Oversight Board released its first verdicts yesterday, and overturned four of five censorship decisions. Facebook is now allowed seven days to restore the banned content.

But why does it take seven days? It doesn’t really: this is a stall. With time sensitive material, the license just compounds the harm.

Now the board will decide whether to keep former President Trump’s page banned permanently. That should tell us whether the review system is legitimate or a sham with a purely political agenda, for there can be no justification for blocking the words, views and opinions of any prominent national leader, particularly a President, and particularly particularly one who is routinely savaged with twisted accusations every day by the news media and every second by other Facebook users. The Oversight Board will issue a decision in the next 90 days as the ban continues. It’s a another transparent stall. This isn’t a hard call, and if it is for anyone, then that is signature significance for disqualifying bias.

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From A School Superintendent, Authentic Frontier Gibberish And More Evidence Of Why Our Children Are In Trouble.

A nice, smart, passionate, and painfully progressive Facebook friend posted this letter with approval on his page. It was originally written and posted by a superintendent in Voorheesville in upstate New York, and has been circulating on social media for all the wrong reasons. The letter was directed to “All teachers and parents.”

I’ll have some observations at the end, if I can control my gag reflex.

Dear Friends and Colleagues: I am writing today about the children of this pandemic. After a lifetime of working among the young, I feel compelled to address the concerns that are being expressed by so many of my peers about the deficits the children will demonstrate when they finally return to school. My goodness, what a disconcerting thing to be concerned about in the face of a pandemic which is affecting millions of people around the country and the world. It speaks to one of my biggest fears for the children when they return. In our determination to “catch them up,” I fear that we will lose who they are and what they have learned during this unprecedented era. What on earth are we trying to catch them up on? The models no longer apply, the benchmarks are no longer valid, the trend analyses have been interrupted. We must not forget that those arbitrary measures were established by people, not ordained by God. We can make those invalid measures as obsolete as a crank up telephone! They simply do not apply. When the children return to school, they will have returned with a new history that we will need to help them identify and make sense of. When the children return to school, we will need to listen to them. Let their stories be told. They have endured a year that has no parallel in modern times. There is no assessment that applies to who they are or what they have learned. Remember, their brains did not go into hibernation during this year. Their brains may not have been focused on traditional school material, but they did not stop either. Their brains may have been focused on where their next meal is coming from, or how to care for a younger sibling, or how to deal with missing grandma, or how it feels to have to surrender a beloved pet, or how to deal with death. Our job is to welcome them back and help them write that history. I sincerely plead with my colleagues, to surrender the artificial constructs that measure achievement and greet the children where they are, not where we think they “should be.” Greet them with art supplies and writing materials, and music and dance and so many other avenues to help them express what has happened to them in their lives during this horrific year. Greet them with stories and books that will help them make sense of an upside-down world. They missed you. They did not miss the test prep. They did not miss the worksheets. They did not miss the reading groups. They did not miss the homework. They missed you. Resist the pressure from whatever ‘powers that be’ who are in a hurry to “fix” kids and make up for the “lost” time. The time was not lost, it was invested in surviving an historic period of time in their lives—in our lives. The children do not need to be fixed. They are not broken. They need to be heard. They need be given as many tools as we can provide to nurture resilience and help them adjust to a post pandemic world. Being a teacher is an essential connection between what is and what can be. Please, let what can be demonstrate that our children have so much to share about the world they live in and in helping them make sense of what, for all of us has been unimaginable. This will help them– and us– achieve a lot more than can be measured by any assessment tool ever devised. Peace to all who work with the children!Being a teacher is an essential connection between what is and what can be. Please, let what can be demonstrate that our children have so much to share about the world they live in and in helping them make sense of what, for all of us has been unimaginable. This will help them– and us– achieve a lot more than can be measured by any assessment tool ever devised. Peace to all who work with the children!

Observations:

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