Coronavirus: censored and concerned

Facebook said censoring me was due to a glitch, but here's why I take the threat seriously, and suggest you do, too

Novel coronavirus special edition

Greetings,

If it hasn’t sunk in for you yet that thanks to the novel corona virus, our daily routines aren’t just temporarily on hold but forever altered, then I suspect it will soon. Our supply chain will soon fray. In the near future, we will have to return at least some of our manufacturing, such as our pharmaceuticals, back from China and on shore.

Local governments such as in the state of New York under a proactive governor such as Andrew Cuomo are taking charge and seeing to it that their constituents’ needs are being met. Individuals in my community are proactively ensuring that others’ basic needs are best met, despite the uncertainty.

Meanwhile, whether due to incompetence, lack of leadership, or simply lack of supplies, the federal government is giving us citizens more reason to give it the gimlet eye than ever before in my life time. More than Vietnam, certainly more than Watergate.

We might find ourselves seeing that such a big country might not be tenable any more, and that in fact, smaller government structures work quite well. Will we fracture geographically? It is not beyond the realm of possiblity, even if now such questions remain theoretical.

In smaller, more immediate ways, the situation is promising, especially through the eyes of children.

Yesterday, my husband and I were among the scores of others in our neighborhood out for a walk in the middle of a sunny Tuesday when ordinarily we all would have been at work or in school. So many children and dogs — both groups obviously delighted by the novelty of their sudden freedom.

I would ante up a 4-roll package of toilet paper this was the first of many such days these kids will have: unstructured, unhurried, unferried around. And I would hedge my bet with another pack of TP that these kids are going to look back on their lives and remember this as the time they discovered their affinity for nature, their appreciation for their own imaginations, and their solid sense of self, despite not having a schedule.

Parents will either burn out chasing after their younguns, or just learn to trust their kids will probably, maybe, more than likely be okay and to let them roam. (Dogs, however, should remain leashed, as amidst all the fun and frolicking, we watched an unleashed one chase a poor deer nearly to its death in traffic).

But whether this experience of freedom inspires them, or becomes nothing but a memory depends on whether we remain alert to what might be happening while we’re not paying close enough attention.

Yesterday, for the first time ever, I was censored on Facebook. What had I posted? An op-ed from The Atlantic outlining how a different president would have handled this current national crisis. Since the initial notification that I was being censored,

there has been media coverage saying that Facebook’s kosher filters are getting glitchy, and my ability to post that article has been restored. Still, when I saw the flag, I experienced a chill and was momentarily at a loss. It struck at the core of a fear I, and others who have written or said so to me privately, are worried might be coming: some form of martial law. As one person said to me, “If we’d said this even just a year ago, people would have thought we were wearing tin foil hats. Not any more.”

In fact, in the middle of this crisis, similar to how Congress passed the Patriot Act that gave the federal government vast powers of surveillance as our nation was still in shock around the attacks of 9-11, Senator Lindsay Graham (R.- SC) has introduced legislation that wouldn’t just expand the government’s surveillance powers once again, it would also give them the power to censor.

All this power would be overseen by the attorney general. Consider that our current attorney general,William Barr’s fondness for overreach already has provoked an unprecedented call by federal judges nationally to ask him to resign. Knowing this was not likely, they wrote:

“Because we have little expectation he will do so, it falls to the Department’s career officials to take appropriate action to uphold their oaths of office and defend nonpartisan, apolitical justice.”

If you’re an autocrat or work for one, seeing a call to your direct reports to hold you accountable is going to be read as a threat that must be quelled. It helps if a chummy legislator helps give you expanded powers to aid you in your ability to thwart what you see as a potential mutiny. Graham’s so-called EARN IT bill offers the attorney general the power to do away with encrypted communications and yank from view what he thinks is misinformation.

The purported rationale for this legislation is to protect us from fake news and to protect children from exploitation. It would amend Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act, which currently exempts social media companies from liability of these activities.

Let me give Sen. Graham the benefit of the doubt here for a moment. Let’s say this is all at face value. In that case, the means should justify the ends, and there are plenty of other means for curbing fake news and for protecting children. Section 230 does not prevent federal prosecution if there is evidence of a federal crime, such as child exploitation, and plenty of tax-payer funded investigations into the progenitors of fake news have been conducted but ignored by Congress.

If the Republican crie du coeur is for government to stay out of families’ lives, then give parents the responsibility of protecting their kids by limiting what their kids see. The technology to help them do that already exists.

Plus, as I have written about often, not allowing what are now essentially utilities to have so much monopoly power would be another way to combat misinformation. Facebook increasingly is moving to AI to filter user content, as is Google/YouTube, but there is plenty they miss and will alway miss because of the magnitude of content uploaded every second. If they were smaller in size, they could manage their review processes better.

Then there is the fact that Big Data companies’ sales models are driven by algorithms they use to sell your time and attention to advertisers, who sponsor what they think you want to see. This ironically means they can expose viewers to things they might not otherwise come across, might not have it in their minds any reason to go looking for. This is how they make their money. So, in a sense, these social media behemoths are disincentivized to cull the crap.

A better use of legislative powers would be to remove the incentive of collecting our personal data to sell to advertisers who then end up the sponsors of the crap we’re told the new legislation will protect us from seeing. If there were a robust marketplace of social media platforms, then say, we could have a choice of which ones we’d allow our kids to be on. Innovative private social media platforms could offer as a unique selling point that their platforms are free of exploitative material.

And so on.

Now, let me go back to being my usual cynical self here and not give the Senator from South Carolina the benefit of the doubt. Either he is not truly aware of the power of a free market, is shilling for an autocrat, or is unable to understand how Big Data actually works. Or a combination of some or all of the above.

Here’s the larger point. What I am seeing at this time in our lives, is that with this coronavirus crisis, we have an unexpected, but remarkable opportunity to remake our system of government, and most importantly, secure our freedom.

Those of us who understand that too much power is bad in the hands of anyone, whether it be a president, a king, or a pope, don’t fixate on whether power over our lives will be given to a Democrat or a Republican or a Socialist for that matter.

At this current point in time, when threat to life is real, and is occurring against a backdrop of an utterly broken and corrupt system of government where all of our so-called federal leaders should be held with suspicion, we should be hyper careful about handing over anything to them we would either have to die to have a chance of getting back on behalf of our fellow citizens (they’d have to enjoy it in our absence because we’d be dead), or will have to adjust to never seeing again.

And when in a nation where laws are created by a nest of uninformed vipers giving virtually unchecked censorship and surveillance authority to an office currently held by an autocratic know-nothing, as evidenced below, then odds are higher that evidence of said leader’s stupidity will disappear.

Instead of this…

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Or this (click on video arrow icon inside video below to activate):

What we would probably see is this…

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And this mendacity (click here):

by POTUS who said it was “nasty” to be asked why he shut down the nation’s pandemic response team, would likely never be challenged so that we would now that indeed, it was not a “nasty question” but a truthful statement he never answered.

Instead of relying on existing laws and the application of free market norms to interpret Section 230 for the utmost public good, Graham’s EARN IT legislation hauls out a canon to blow a hole through Section 230, making space for whatever narrative of reality best serves powers that be…and especially powers that are worried they won’t be for too much longer, which is more likely when days like this:

increasingly turn into a string of days, weeks, and perhaps months of this:

and this:

It doesn’t matter if you or the president did or didn’t always call this a pandemic, when the perky bosom of the stock market slides into its own arm pit, and the citizenry is in a matter of days blown to bits with double digit unemployment, our lives are not ever going to be what they once were. I would rather participate in deciding what we will build in its place than leave it to the uninformed and hidden-agenda seekers.

Now is the time to start envisioning what we will want to create in place of what was once normal. If we want that vision to include freedom, free markets, and free thinking, then it has to start with the free flow of information, however we make that possible. You and I are the ones who have to take responsiblity for envisioning and protecting that freedom. Our kids and grandkids, the ones now enjoying all their new-found freedom, are the ones who will animate and expand it.

Legislation like EARN IT would only deflate and kill their freedom, and ours, too.

Call YOUR lawmakers. Call them a lot. They have staff who will pick up. Be polite, even if you feel emotional. They will be polite, they are trained to not get emotional. They will take your name and information. They won’t promise you a return phone call, but they will let the legislative representative know that you called and will relay what you said.

If you and five others call — that is considered A LOT OF CALLS! That’s how little we value letting our representatives know what we think and feel.

While my readers range the gamut from hard core supporters of POTUS, to those who live in fear of him, I hope that all of you can see reason in my argument and will take time to think this over. Try poking holes in my argument, and then try poking holes in your own. When you’re done, and if you agree, here’s the information you will need to ask your legislators to halt this attack on freedom. Tell them you are calling in reference to: S.3398 EARN IT Act of 2020 introduced by Sen. Graham.

Here are lists of the lawmakers and their numbers and emails:

Senate phone numbers and emails.

House phone numbers.

House emails can be accessed through this directory


My best to each and every one of you that you and yours will remain in good health. Feel free to share this with others, and consider supporting the newsletter, if you can. I’m cutting the rate to make it easier. Like you and so many others, I am not working at the moment, and appreciate the support.

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Whitney