“China has long been the number one feeder of international students to the U.S.; for the 2020–21 school year, more than 317,000 Chinese students were enrolled at American higher ed institutions. Hong Kong sends about 6,800 students overseas to
American universities each year. Thus, McLaughlin says, the question arose at the start of the pandemic when foreign nationals were temporarily expelled from the U.S.: “Is it safe for them to learn?”
American professors started “try[ing] to find the safest way to teach without censoring themselves,” McLaughlin says. They have taken certain discussion off of certain platforms; started using blind grading and allowing students to not submit papers under their own names; changed some conversations to be one-on-one instead of group discussions where another student could possibly record or disseminate the comments of a student living under Beijing’s thumb. Some professors, like Rory Truex at Princeton, issued warnings in their syllabuses, saying in essence that if a student was currently residing in China, they should wait to take a given class until they’re back on American soil.
Academics elsewhere have stooped to disturbing self-censorship to stave off Chinese Communist Party (CCP) censors. A teaching assistant at the University of Toronto declared he’d been told not to talk about certain issues online because it could put some students at risk; a guest lecturer-journalist from the Hong Kong Free Press declined an already-agreed-to speaking opportunity at the University of Leeds because he had been instructed by hosts to avoid focusing on the Hong Kong protests out of concern for the safety of Chinese students attending the lecture remotely.”
“Professors in Hong Kong, and international students from Hong Kong who study in the U.S. (not to mention their mainland Chinese counterparts), already had to worry about what might happen if a student takes a phone out and films comments made during classes. With the widespread adoption of remote learning, that’s gotten exponentially worse, says McLaughlin. “Whether it’s the intent or not, the effect of forcing everything online makes it a lot easier to hunt down, censor, and punish speech that’s critical of the government.””
“In response to Australian court decisions holding media companies legally liable for the comments by users, CNN has blocked access to some of its Facebook pages from users in that country.
This is an inevitable outcome of a bad decision and a reminder of why it’s important not to try to force government-mandated moderation policies onto massive social media platforms that will inevitably lead to either censorship or lack of access to information.”
“Apple and Google shut down a voting app meant to help opposition parties organize against the Kremlin in a parliamentary election in Russia that’s taking place over the weekend. The companies removed the app from their app stores on Friday after the Russian government accused them of interfering in the country’s internal affairs, a clear attempt by President Vladimir Putin to obstruct free elections and stay in power.
The Smart Voting app was designed to identify candidates most likely to beat members of the government-backed party, United Russia, as part of a broader strategy organized by supporters of the imprisoned Russian activist Alexei Navalny to bring together voters who oppose Putin. In a bid to clamp down on the opposition effort, the Russian government told Google and Apple that the app was illegal, and reportedly threatened to arrest employees of both companies in the country.
The move also comes amid a broader crackdown on Big Tech in Russia. Earlier this week, a Russian court fined Facebook and Twitter for not removing “illegal” content, and the country is reportedly blocking peoples’ access to Google Docs, which Navalny supporters had been using to share lists of preferred candidates.”
“The horseshoe theory, like the Overton window, was a concept destined to be bastardized the moment it entered casual use. Its origins are murky, but the classic version posits that the political spectrum isn’t linear, but bent like a horseshoe, with leftist and rightist extremists closer to each other than either side would like to admit.
The theory is typically used to explain why 20th century communists and fascists seemed to have so much in common, though it likely predates the last century. But in the United States in 2021, a softer version of this iron law is at play, with the center-left and the center-right mushily converging toward expensive authoritarian policies that look astonishingly similar despite their supposedly opposite goals. Still a horseshoe, but more like one of the marshmallow ones you can find in bowls of Lucky Charms.
Nowhere is the nouveau horseshoe more apparent than on the debate about Big Tech and free speech, with both the left and the right utterly convinced that large social media platforms and other tech firms are using their sinisterly large amount of power to benefit the other side. And both left and right are cheerfully willing to use the state to solve the supposed problem. Once again, their proposals look quite similar, yet they’re far enough apart that never the twain shall meet. Governments absolutely need to tell tech companies what they can and can’t publish or sell—on that power players and pundits of the American left and right agree.”
“The left and right frequently find themselves in uncomfortable agreement across a censor’s tribunal table. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has been wearing a horseshoe around her neck for years, for example: first banned from the libraries of public schools at the behest of Christan conservatives for the allegedly demonic elements in her novels about tween wizards, then canceled for voicing politically incorrect views on trans issues by furious progressives who grew up wishing they could go to Hogwarts.”
“”Defining ‘misinformation’ is a challenging task, and any definition has limitations,” Murthy concedes. “One key issue is whether there can be an objective benchmark for whether something qualifies as misinformation. Some researchers argue that for something to be considered misinformation, it has to go against ‘scientific consensus.’ Others consider misinformation to be information that is contrary to the ‘best available evidence.’ Both approaches recognize that what counts as misinformation can change over time with new evidence and scientific consensus. This Advisory prefers the ‘best available evidence’ benchmark since claims can be highly misleading and harmful even if the science on an issue isn’t yet settled.”
Who decides what the “best available evidence” indicates? Trusting government-appointed experts with that job seems risky, to say the least.”
“If those recommendations become commands, they would clearly impinge on the First Amendment rights of social media companies and people who use their platforms. But even if such regulations could pass constitutional muster, they would face the same basic problem as voluntary efforts to curb “misinformation”: Once you get beyond clear examples like warnings about vaccine-induced mass sterility, misinformation is in the eye of the beholder.”
“Many Republican legislators at both the state and national level are profoundly misguided about Section 230. They seem to think it’s getting in the way of conservatives’ free speech rights when in reality it gives Big Tech additional legal cover for continuing to platform right-wing speech. Legislation aimed at hurting social media companies will ultimately end up hurting the kinds of speech that have flourished on Facebook and Twitter but would not have been published in mainstream media outlets.
If anything, that’s disproportionately likely to be right-wing speech.”
“”Germany’s Network Enforcement Law, or NetzDG … requires social media companies to block or remove content that violates one of twenty restrictions on hate and defamatory speech in the German Criminal Code,” Diana Lee wrote for Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic. “In effect, the NetzDG conscripts social media companies into governmental service as content regulators,” with millions of euros in fines hanging over their heads if they guess wrong.
That model of delegated censorship has proven to be as infectious as a viral outbreak, taking hold in over a dozen other countries.”
“expected to encourage even more “overblocking” by platforms worried that they’ll face a financial death penalty if they guess wrong as to content’s legal status.”
“The U.S. faces its own speech- and privacy-threatening legislation in the form of the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT) Act of 2020. The legislation, which was introduced in the House of Representatives last month, invokes children and the dangers of child pornography on its way to threatening platforms with the loss of Section 230 protection against liability for content posted by users if they don’t adopt government-dictated “best practices.”
“The EARN IT bill would allow small website owners to be sued or prosecuted under state laws, as long as the prosecution or lawsuit somehow related to crimes against children,” warns the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “We know how websites will react to this. Once they face prosecution or lawsuits based on other peoples’ speech, they’ll monitor their users, and censor or shut down discussion forums.”
This world-wide wave of censorship legislation piggy-backs on pandemic-related concerns about the quality of information and the safety of communications available to people confined to their homes. It has sometimes been passed by legislatures empowered by health-related states of emergency. Yet again, a crisis eases the way for governments to accumulate powers that would face greater resistance in happier times.”
“TikTok, the short-form video app that’s been downloaded 1.5 billion times, is one of the most exciting and goofiest places on the internet, and possibly the only truly fun social media network in 2019. It is also based in China — and that’s the part that has some users, and now, politicians, concerned.”
“US politicians’ concern over TikTok began with an investigation the Guardian published on September 25, which revealed leaked documents that showed TikTok instructing its moderators to censor videos that mentioned topics sensitive to the Communist Party of China: Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence, and the religious group Falun Gong, for instance. The Guardian’s investigation came after the Washington Post noted that a search for Hong Kong-related topics on TikTok showed virtually zero content about the ongoing and widely publicized pro-democracy protests, which were a major topic on other social media sites at the time. ”