Will the Internet Destroy Cuba’s Communist Dictatorship?

“On Sunday, July 11, thousands of Cubans in dozens of cities around the island nation took to the streets to protest the country’s communist dictatorship and persistent shortages in food, energy, and medicine, all of which have been made worse by the pandemic.

The demonstrations have been enabled by social media and the internet, which only came to Cuba in a big way in late 2018, when President Miguel Diaz-Canel allowed citizens access to the internet on their cellphones.”

Good internet service is still a luxury in the US

“Home broadband is more important than ever. It’s also seemingly a luxury good.

Just over half of Americans making less than $30,000 a year have home broadband, a service that’s increasingly important for numerous aspects of life, from school to work to socializing. A much higher 92 percent of households bringing in $75,000 or more per year have home broadband, according to a new survey by Pew Research Center.”

“That’s due to the high cost of internet in the United States — about $60 a month — which is more than many Americans can afford. Nearly half of those without broadband don’t have it because they say it’s too expensive, according to the survey. Broadband in the US is more expensive than in many other developed nations.

The crux of the issue is that the US is very large and building out internet infrastructure is expensive, so internet companies are more likely to do so in areas where there are lots of paying customers: wealthier and populous areas. Since internet companies are not regulated like utilities, they have little economic incentive to build out internet to isolated or poorer areas, where there are fewer customers or at least fewer customers who can afford it. The result is a digital divide in which many poorer and more rural Americans lack access to broadband internet.”

“In the meantime, about half of those without broadband say they can do everything they need to do online with their smartphone.”

“People can do plenty of things perfectly fine on a smartphone, but there is an upper limit (try writing and sending a cover letter, toggling through different tabs and apps for work, or even being able to get the same options on your bank’s mobile website as its regular website).

“In most cases, it’s easier to use a bigger screen with a connected computer than it is to use a smartphone. If you don’t have [a computer with broadband], you’re not really plugged into the modern economy,” Rainie said, pointing to how important having a computer with broadband is for things like applying for a job. “The data shows you’re not capable of being the kind of social, political, and economic actor that people who have broadband are able to be,” he added.”

The Problem Isn’t Just One Insurrection. It’s Mass Radicalization.

“Unlike other recent spasms of American violence, this was not the work of a lone wolf nor of a small cell of radicals. The pathway to an attempted government overthrow unfolded in public, out loud on the internet, in a process that experts call mass radicalization.

The protest was likely just the tip of an iceberg; nobody knows how many Americans—tens of thousands? more?—would willingly have joined them if they’d been in Washington that day. It’s a new challenge for America, and a serious one: At times and places when large groups of people have been inspired to embrace violence, it often leads to long-term unrest, if not outright civil war. And right now, experts think, it’s happening faster than ever.”

“over the past roughly 15 years, the average time span of radicalization in the U.S. has shrunk from 18 months to 7 months, largely because of how much of our lives have shifted online.”

“Typically, when we talk about radicalization, we’re talking about it at an individual or small-group level. We talk about how Person X came to adopt an extremist viewpoint and act on it. We highlight things like personal grievances, their identity ambitions—perhaps they were seeking some thrill or meaning in their life, and got excited about the promises being made by an extremist ideology, and that if they participated, they would be revered as a hero. With small groups, we tend to talk about group cohesion. Individuals tend to isolate themselves among like-minded people—it’s just a natural human instinct. That tends to form echo chambers, where you hear the same ideas over and over, and they’re never challenged.
Mass radicalization is a much larger phenomenon in which you have tens of thousands—if not millions—of individuals who are vulnerable to [extremist] messages they receive from really influential people. And then, there might be movement towards mobilizing those individuals. They still talk about personal grievances, but there’s a broader national political message there, [where] this is a battle between good and evil, where the other side is looking to undermine us and our way of life, and we all have a responsibility to challenge and confront the other side.”

“over the past 4½ years, we have had a very influential political leader [President Donald Trump] pushing a narrative that is not only polarizing—not only highlighting that the right and left are far apart on policy issues and disagree on discretionary spending—it’s a narrative of “othering.” It’s a narrative that casts the other side as evil, as “enemies,” as individuals you have to fight at all costs in order to preserve your way of life. We saw this, whether [Trump’s “others”] were Democrats, the news media or the scientific community.”

“Our reality now is one in which a radicalizing message can be broadcast to hundreds of millions of people in a matter of seconds. And if it catches on, you’re virtually guaranteed that millions of people will [believe] that narrative. We’ve seen this in the more traditional forms of media, with outlets like Fox News pushing some of these conspiratorial views, but we’ve also seen it with social media companies not cracking down on this rhetoric early, and instead letting it fester.”

“Think about somebody in the 1980s or 1990s radicalizing into the “white power” movement. You had to know somebody in your real-world life who was involved in it. They had to recruit you in or introduce you to the ideas. That tended to be a pretty slow process—a process that, for a lot of individuals, didn’t happen. Now, it’s a click away.”

“there’s not an equal [threat] level across those ideologies. Our data suggest that far-right extremist views are the most prevalent of the extremist views in this country.”

“The “Unite the Right” rally [in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017] was all about bringing these different groups together against a common cause and common enemy. To date, we’ve really only seen that manifest in online rhetorical collaboration, and then that’s spilling offline in terms of marches and demonstrations. To some extent, January 6 was these groups coming together. You saw everyone from neo-Nazis to QAnon supporters to Proud Boys marching on the Capitol that day.”

“Look, I don’t think it’s good for the social fabric of our country for individuals to believe conspiracy theories and extremist views. But it’s not illegal. Individuals can hold those beliefs if they want to. What is illegal is when they mobilize on behalf of them and hurt someone else, or commit some other crime on behalf of those views. That’s really what we have the legal authority to do something about. When we’re talking about policies that we can reasonably enact in this country, then we’re talking about stopping people from engaging in illegal behaviors.

For the social good of our country, I hope that we promote more mainstream rhetoric over the next few years. I hope that we elevate science and evidence and fact to the position that it used to have, and that these narratives are not as prevalent, because it is bad for our democracy and our communities.”

New Bill Would Empower Trolls, Make It Easier for States To Sue Tech Companies

“The biggest problem with the PACT Act involves Section 230, the federal law that shields internet platforms from some liability for user-created content. An existing exception to this applies when federal criminal laws are concerned. Under the PACT Act’s proposed changes, however, federal civil laws would also be exempted, too. This means federal regulatory agencies could sue online entities when things their users post allegedly violate civil laws, including anti-discrimination and accessibility statutes.

Even more significantly, the PACT Act would let state attorneys general get in on the action—”allowing state attorneys general to enforce federal civil laws against online platforms,” as Schatz’s press release puts it. That means that for the same alleged violation, a company could face the wrath of the federal government and dozens of state prosecutors at the same time.”

“The required process for allowing people to report, question, contest, and appeal all content moderation decisions would be an even bigger burden—and one that allowed for targeted harassment and censorship campaigns by groups intent on punishing certain platforms or silencing certain groups.

“This bill basically empowers trolls to harass companies,” Masnick writes. “All it will do is harm smaller companies, like ours, by putting a massive compliance burden on us, accomplishing nothing but…helping trolls annoy us.””

“Sponsored by Sens. Brian Schatz (D–Hawaii) and John Thune (R–S.D.), the PACT Act was first introduced last summer”

The online far right is angry, exultant, and ready for more

“On Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, the message board TheDonald, and Parler, a “free speech social network” created in opposition to Twitter, some users blamed antifa for the attack while others claimed credit for it. Meanwhile, others were angry at the president for posting a video Thursday acknowledging a “new administration” would take over.

Even as the online right is divided about how to react to the events of this week, loyalty to President Donald Trump is still strong. Many online supporters refer to him as “GEOTUS,” or Grand Emperor of the United States, and have called fellow members to stand by him.

But there is fracturing within the movement: Some are confused about why they were asked to come to the January 6 rally if not to take extreme action, others are angry at Trump’s concession video posted on Twitter Thursday night where he described Wednesday’s events as a “heinous attack,” and others still are developing new conspiracy theories.”

“It’s hard to know how seriously to take any individual threat or comment made by members of these forums. Distinguishing between legitimate threats and trolling is difficult — and that reality is mirrored by the president himself. Trump will make “jokes” that target groups or individuals and undermine democratic norms. His supporters casually dismissed criticisms of these comments, or chastised observers for taking the president literally.”

“While the effort to remove extremism from mainstream social media companies could help curb the spread of extreme ideas to casual users of the internet, the ever-evolving web of right-wing social media and messaging boards will likely defy the control of these tech giants. Just take a look at TheDonald, formerly a part of Reddit; once banned there, it managed to migrate to its own outpost on the internet.”

Obama: The internet is “the single biggest threat to our democracy”

“you have a situation in which large swaths of the country genuinely believe that the Democratic Party is a front for a pedophile ring…I was talking to a volunteer who was going door-to-door in Philadelphia in low-income African American communities, and was getting questions about QAnon conspiracy theories.”

“If we do not have the capacity to distinguish what’s true from what’s false, then by definition the marketplace of ideas doesn’t work. And by definition our democracy doesn’t work.”

German-Style Internet Censorship Catches On Around the World

“”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.”

The Big Tech antitrust report has one big conclusion: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google are anti-competitive

“The 400-plus page report, written by the majority staff of the Democratic members of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, is the result of a 16-month investigation into whether these corporate giants abuse their power, and whether the country’s antitrust laws need to be reworked to rein them in. The report released Tuesday cites numerous examples of each tech titan engaging in acts that the lawmakers believe have hurt innovation and impede competition. While the anti-competitive behaviors cited vary from company to company, they are all linked by the allegation that the four giants abuse their gatekeeper status in various internet industries to secure and grow their market power in those sectors and others.”