Today’s the last day to get money you may be owed by Facebook

August 25, 2023 • 2:42 pm

The WaPo tells all; click on screenshot below. If you can’t access it, I’ll give you the details below:

The details:

Five years after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, millions of Facebook users may be able to get money back from the social media company for their troubles.

Facebook, which is owned by Meta, reached a $725 million class-action settlement earlier this year over claims it shared users’ data without their consent. Millions of people can fill out a claim form to get a slice of the settlement amount, but only if they apply before the deadline this Friday, Aug. 25.

If you are a current or former Facebook user, here’s how to get started.

Who qualifies to get a payment?

Anyone who used Facebook between May 24, 2007, and Dec. 22, 2022, can submit a claim, even if you no longer have a Facebook account. Political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica was accused of improperly using a quiz app on the social media site to access the personal data of 87 million Facebook users without their consent.

How do I get my money from the Facebook settlement?

You have to submit a claim to get any money. If you don’t submit one, you won’t get a payment. You also will not be able to sue Facebook on your own for the same privacy violation, if that was something you were considering.

To start the process, you’ll fill out a simple form. You can mail in a printed version or do it online at If you are a current Facebook user, you should also have received an alert in the app or site that links to the settlement page and instructions.

You’ll need some key information, including your email address, phone number or username or user ID to confirm your account. The form also asks you to share payment information so you can receive the payout. If you no longer have your account, you can note the years it was active to the best of your recollection. You may be able to find your old sign-up and cancellation emails to find the right dates.

When do I need to file a claim?

You have until this Friday, Aug. 25, 2023, 11:59 p.m. Pacific time.

If it’s not a lot of money, should I even file a claim?

While it’s unlikely to result in a big payday for Facebook users, it’s still smart to file a claim. In addition to getting enough for at least a couple lattes, these settlements can send a message to the companies.

I’ve filed a claim, and while I don’t expect much, if it’s owed me, I’ll take it. Remember, you have until midnight tonight. It’s dead easy to fill out the form; all you have to know is your Facebook name (and email and address, etc.)

Should we have free speech on social media?

December 13, 2022 • 11:15 am

Answering the title question, “Yes, I think so.” I’ve argued for a while that, insofar as possible, sites like Twitter and Facebook should hew as closely to the First Amendment as does any government organization, including public schools. This should also hold for private schools, at least as a principle, since if one accepts the many arguments for free speech, there is no relevant difference between public and private venues in their need for free speech—and that includes social media.

Remember, American courts have carved out well know exceptions to the First Amendment—exceptions like no personal harassment or atmosphere of harassment in the workplace, no false advertising, no child pornography, no speech that is intended to incite imminent violence, no defamation, no threats, and so on.  That pretty much covers all the relevant issues, except for “hate speech,” which is now the main reason people want to cut back on First Amendment rights. (I disagree, of course, as the definitions of hate speech are usually “speech that I don’t like”, and at any rate the truly invidious forms are already covered as court-mandated exceptions to First Amendment rights).

In this article from The Dispatch, editor David French (also a contributing writer for The Atlantic), makes the argument I reprised above: stop kvetching about what kind of speech we should have on Twitter: just let ‘er rip according to how the courts have construed the First Amendment. That is, I think, what Elon Musk wanted, but the entire Internet now seems bogged down on endless discussions of how to “moderate” Twitter, combined with endless nonstop demonization of Musk (I have no dog in the pro- or anti-Musk arguments).

This article isn’t too long, but makes a persuasive case for taking moderation of social media (and private universities) to First Amendment levels. Click to read (you may have to start a free account using your email:

I’ll give some excerpts. First, French shows that the Twitter arguments show good parallels with failed college “speech codes”:

A few years ago I was invited to an off-the-record meeting with senior executives at a major social media company. The topic was free speech. I’d just written a piece for the New York Times called “A better way to ban Alex Jones.” My position was simple: If social media companies want to create a true marketplace of ideas, they should look to the First Amendment to guide their policies.

This position wasn’t adopted on a whim, but because I’d spent decades watching powerful private institutions struggle—and fail—to create free speech regulations that purported to permit open debate at the same time that they suppressed allegedly hateful or harmful speech. As I told the tech executives, “You’re trying to recreate the college speech code, except online, and it’s not going to work.”

And I like French’s potted history of College speech codes:

At the risk of oversimplifying history, here’s the short story of modern university censorship. As American universities grew more diverse, a consensus emerged in universities both public and private that schools should strive to create a “welcoming” environment for students and faculty, with particular attention paid to protecting students from discrimination on the basis of protected categories such as race, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

Federal and state laws required colleges and universities to protect students from harassment on the basis of protected characteristics. But schools wanted to go further. They wanted to make sure that students and faculty were protected from psychological discomfort. The speech code was born.

At the same time, however, schools were still eager to proclaim their support for academic freedom and free speech. So the message to the campus community boiled down to something like this—all speech is free except for hate speech. But what was hate speech? The definitions were broad and malleable.

Temple University, for example, banned “generalized sexist remarks.” Penn State University declared that “acts of intolerance will not be tolerated,” and defined harassment as “unwelcome banter, teasing, or jokes that are derogatory, or depict members of a protected class in a stereotypical and demeaning manner.”

One of the worst speech codes I ever read was enacted at Shippensburg University, a public university in Pennsylvania. The policy was remarkably broad: “Shippensburg University’s commitment to racial tolerance, cultural diversity and social justice will require every member of this community to ensure that the principles of these ideals be mirrored in their attitudes and behaviors.”

It doesn’t take a legal genius to realize that these speech rules were so broad that they granted administrators extraordinary power over free speech. Combine that power with the ideological blinders that are inherent to any political monoculture, and you have a recipe for staggering double standards in censoring political and religious speech. I could fill an entire newsletter with stories of such abuses.

Again, private universities are at liberty to restrict speech any way they want, but once they state that they have a principle of free speech, then they must stick by it and can, in fact, be sued for abrogating it. But I see no reason why any private school should restrict free speech.

They can, of course, restrict it in a way that doesn’t disrupt the mission of the university, as by banning loud demonstrations that would deplatform a speaker. French discusses other permissible restrictions.

And so it should be, says French, with social media:

The same message should apply to social media. As a private company, you can choose to become, say, a “progressive social media platform” or a “website for Christian connection and expression” and govern yourself accordingly. But if you hold yourself out as a place that welcomes all Americans, then you’re courting disaster if you depart from the lessons learned from constitutional law.

And that’s Twitter. And I agree.

French also favors “viewpoint neutrality,” which is simply recasting free speech to add that no speech should be banned simply because of “the underlying viewpoint of the speaker.” This rule, and the First Amendment adherence, has of course been adopted by the University of Chicago in its Principles of Free Expression and its Kalven Principles.

After emphasizing that all speech rules should be as clear as possible, because vague or “overbroad” rules can also chill speech, French then recommends three principles for implementing First Amendment guidelines by social media companies:

How does all this apply to Twitter, Facebook and every other large social media platform on the planet? First, it means giving up the quest for a free speech utopia and embracing viewpoint neutrality. There is no way to create any meaningful free speech environment that allows for actual debate while protecting participants from hurtful ideas or painful speech. Executives at Twitter or Meta are no better than college administrators at crafting the perfect speech code. The brightest minds have already made that effort, and even the brightest minds have failed.

Second, it means moderating on the basis of traditional speech limits. Even institutions that embrace viewpoint neutrality will place limits on speech. They’ll have to. If there is one thing we know from decades of experience with the internet is that completely unmoderated spaces can and do become open sewers that are often unsafe for children and deeply unpleasant for adults. Unmoderated spaces can become so grotesque that they’re simply not commercially viable.

“Viewpoint neutral” is thus not a synonym for “unmoderated.” Consistent with viewpoint neutrality, a platform can impose restrictions that echo offline speech limitations. Defamation isn’t protected speech. Neither is obscenity. Harassment is unlawful. Invasions of privacy (doxxing, for example) should face sanctions. Threats and incitement violate criminal law. A platform can say, “Children are present. No nudity.”

It is easy to imagine different rules that make it easier to talk about issues and harder to target individuals. Examples of viewpoint-neutral time, place, and manner regulations that could prevent, for example, some of the worst conduct on Twitter could include limiting or eradicating the quote-tweet function, limiting the visibility of replies to other users’ tweets, or limiting the ability of users to reply or interact with tweets of people they don’t follow.

Third, it means embracing clarity and transparency. Make rules clear. Create an appeals process when users are penalized. No human institution is ever going to apply its rules perfectly, and accountability is necessary. Secrecy in decision-making can impair trust every bit as thoroughly as flaws in the substance of the decisions made.

In the end, French argues—and again I agree—that Musk’s takeover of Twitter should prompt us to rethink the notion of free speech on social media. As French says in his last sentence,

 New platforms can benefit from old principles, and when it comes to managing a marketplace of ideas, centuries of First Amendment jurisprudence can help light the way.

I’m sure some readers will disagree, arguing about Russian bots, hate speech, or other issues. Feel free to weigh in below.

“Never apologize, never explain”

June 10, 2022 • 12:15 pm

The old bromide above, which I think came from the military (i.e., it’s the way you should behave when a superior calls you out), is the subject of an op-ed in May from Freddie deBoer, which you can read by clicking below. (Remember to subscribe if you read him often.)

DeBoer, like many who have a public presence and strong opinions, has had his share of online fracases over time. (I have had but a few.) One of his was a “Twitter freakout” about his book The Cult of Smart: How Our Broken Education System Perpetuates Social Injustice. People trashed it before it was published, and even quoted pages that he never wrote.  And he’s learned both personally and through observation to never issue an apology unless you mean it, and issue it to the people concerned, not to the world.

You probably know now that such apologies never “work”—if by “work” you mean “rehabilitate your reputation”. No, they only gives fodder to those who are out for your scalp. To such people, an apology is a tacit admission of guilt, and an excuse to ratchet up your animus, not quell it.

DeBoer gives several examples of the failure of public apologies. I hadn’t heard of most of them, and I’ll give just one.

I think of Lindsay Ellis, author and video essayist who was canceled for (this is true) comparing the shitty and quickly-forgotten animated Disney movie Raya and the Last Dragon to the animated series Avatar the Last Airbender. That is, genuinely, all she did, compared one piece of art to another piece of art that shares many similarities. This was bigoted, I’m told, because Raya and Avatar both have Asian characters and references to Asian cultures. In response to the criticism, Ellis published two-hour YouTube video, two hours of the most abject groveling I can imagine. I find Ellis deeply annoying, but I still wince to see that video. Of course, you live by it, you die by it – woke prosecutors have a habit of becoming defendants, over a long enough timeframe. Did Ellis’s over-the-top apology work? Good lord, no. It only chummed the water. The people coming after her just wanted more. However much you apologize, it’s never enough.

These apologies, which remind me of Maoist “struggle sessions”, and are often that cringeworthy. I can’t think of even one that helped someone’s cause, although David Weigel’s apology for retweeting an offensive joke (see this morning’s post) may have saved his job. If you apologize because your employer demands it, even though you think you’ve done nothing wrong, well, you’ve lost a bit of your soul and self-respect.

But not everyone can afford to stand firm on their principles, though, as jobs may be hard to find and you may have mouths to feed. Someone who doesn’t have the possibility of being fired and whom I admire for her tenacity, her refusal to apologize, and, indeed, ability her to double down, is J. K. Rowling. Unfairly dubbed a “transphobe” for trying to discuss the rights of biological women versus transwomen, she never truckled to the mob. Indeed, she gave as good as she got. Hitchens, too, would never apologize for something he said sincerely. (I don’t know, in fact, if he ever apologized for anything!)

At any rate, Boer has some rules for apologies that I generally agree with, although there are some exceptions. (Readers will be able to think of others.) Here they be:

But it’s become abundantly clear that there simply is no value in public apology. Admitting fault only emboldens critics. The mechanisms of social media always reward escalation and never reward calm and restraint. Contemporary progressive politics excuse any amount of personal viciousness so long as the target is perceived to be guilty of committing some identity crime. The notion of proportionality is totally alien to these worlds, and when people ask for such proportionality they’re accused of supporting bigotry. People who are friendly online shamelessly wage backchannel campaigns against each other, and almost no one on social media has the stomach to stand up for someone else when the mob comes for them. Most importantly, the public can never grant you absolution for what you’ve done; absolution is not the public’s to grant. The strangers on Twitter can’t accept an apology, even if they ever would, and they wouldn’t. You can ask the mob for forgiveness, but they have no moral right to grant it, and anyway they never will. They’ll just keep you wriggling on the end of a pin forever. Honestly: how often do people who make public apologies come out ahead in doing so, especially because they’re so often coerced and thus insincere?

Apology itself is good. But public apology is a useless and self-defeating ritual. If you have done something wrong to another, I recommend that you privately apologize to them. That person can then accept your apology or not. They can publicize your apology or not. But all of the moral value of apologizing will be preserved, while nothing of practical value to your life will be lost. Look, if nothing else it’s indisputable that public apology has no consistent ability to reduce criticism, and I think it’s obvious that in fact such apologies just show that blood is in the water. You’ve heard it from me many times: there’s a profound nihilism in American life right now about the potential for positive change. So many people, of so many political stripes, have given up. And I think that plus the truly ruinous and sadistic influence of social networks and their reward systems have created this ever-seething mob that constantly casts around for its next scalp. We can’t get real change, but by god, we can make people cower! You can’t apologize to that. You shouldn’t negotiate with terrorists.

Now I’m assuming here along with Boer that yes, if you transgressed and hurt someone needlessly and thoughtlessly, you should apologize to them. You shouldn’t apologize if you didn’t do anything wrong—unless your livelihood depends on it. (And in the fiction book I just read, Coetzee’s Disgrace, the protagonist lost his job in academics rather than apologizing.) Otherwise, keep your yap shut, or, if you can afford it, double down, though I have no taste for social-media fights.

But there is an exception: if you’ve insulted a group of people, like an ethnic group, and you think you did wrong, and if you’ve erred in public, then a public apology is appropriate. This is simply because individual apologies simply can’t reach all the people you’ve hurt. You may get excoriated even more, but you’ve clung to your principles.

One reason deBoer is so hard on those who use apologies to bear down harder is because they violate one avowed principle of the Left: “restorative justice”. If you’re trying to make honest amends for having done wrong, you should be given a chance to do so, and people should exercise some empathy and understanding. Most of the time, though, they don’t.

As DeBoer notes, “It’s a bizarre little quirk of contemporary left politics – people simultaneously believe that many crimes shouldn’t be prosecuted and that we should always work to reintegrate even the worst offenders into society, but if you violate any of the arcane language norms of 21st-century liberalism, you can never be redeemed.”

Musk says he’ll reverse Twitter ban on Trump

May 10, 2022 • 2:32 pm

According to the Washington Post, Elon Musk, who will be the new boss of Twitter, has announced that he’ll reverse Twitter’s ban on the lucubrations of former Lunatic-in-Chief Donald Trump.

Twitter’s decision to ban Trump from the platform early last year was a mistake, the Tesla CEO said during a virtual event Tuesday. The decision to do so alienated much of the country, and Trump still has a voice. And Trump has launched his own social media platform in the meantime, potentially prompting even greater problems, he added.

“I think it was a morally bad decision to be clear and foolish in the extreme,” he said at the event hosted by the Financial Times.

Twitter banned Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6 riots, citing the risk of further violence.

. . . [Musk] has seized on the platform’s importance to democracy and global debate and criticized what he has described as a left-wing bias in moderation decisions. Twitter has countered that its efforts have been aimed at minimizing harm and improving the user experience by limiting exposure to hate speech and harassment.

I am on Musk’s side in this one. If he truly wants to adhere to the courts’ First Amendment construal of free speech on Twitter, as he said he does, then there’s no reason to ban Trump. If Trump abrogates First Amendment principles in the future, he can go. You might say that his behavior on January 6 constituted the promulgation of predictable and imminent harm, though he’s not been convicted of that, but even if it did, I favor giving him a fresh start. After all, doesn’t America deserve the spectacle of seeing the man fulminate? And remember, half of America loves him.

Of course now people will hate Musk even more, though I don’t think he deserves it. This was a proper decision, and can be rescinded if Trump violates any of the forms of speech not protected by the First Amendment.

I suspect many readers will disagree with me.

Discussion: Elon Musk, Twitter, and free speech

April 28, 2022 • 11:30 am

I am really isolated from the news on this trip: we get no newspapers and I have no time to either read the papers online or listen to news on television. But I gather that Elon Musk has now acquired Twitter.

I also gather that he wants to turn it into a “free speech” platform, and, as he tweeted below, his intention is to allow “free speech” that is simply speech permitted by the First Amendment as adjudicated by the courts (i.e., no personal harassment, false advertising, child pornography, speech that incites imminent lawless action such as violence, and so on).

I see no immediate problem with this, even though Twitter, as a private company, need not abide by the First Amendment. In my view, the closer institutions like Twitter get to construing “free speech” as the courts have construed the First Amendment, the better. The same goes for universities.

Yet there are cries I see online that if Musk acquires Twitter, he will allow “hate speech” (see one example of these objections here.) God forbid, he might allow Donald Trump to tweet again! Thus people are saying that “moderation” will be needed. If that’s the case, who will be the moderator, and who will be moderated? What will be “hate speech” that should be banned, and what will be controversial speech that will not be banned?

I ask readers to discuss this issue. Is Musk’s First-Amendment policy, which will of course lead to “hate speech” (i.e., any speech some people find offensive) an execrable policy, or is it what Twitter needs? Should some people like Trump (who’s already banned from Twitter) be allowed back? Is it bad to have a Twitter policy that allows First-Amendment-permitted speech? As Hitchens asked, who would you trust to decide which speech to allow?

I’ll be reading the discussion, and am seeking edification. I have to say that I’m upset that the opponents of Musk’s “free speech” policy seem to be mostly on the Left, but I may be wrong.

Haidt on the seemingly irreparable brokenness of American life

April 18, 2022 • 9:20 am

One of the engineers at Twitter who had worked on the “Retweet” button later revealed that he regretted his contribution because it had made Twitter a nastier place. As he watched Twitter mobs forming through the use of the new tool, he thought to himself, “We might have just handed a 4-year-old a loaded weapon.” (From the article discussed below).

If you want a nice enlightening yet depressing read for this rainy day (at least it’s rainy in Chicago), here’s an Atlantic piece by the ever-thoughtful and eloquent Jonathan Haidt about how America “got broken”.  By that he refers to the seemingly irreparable divisions among us—not just Right versus Left, but also schisms within segments of the political spectrum—that are making life more and more difficult in America.

In the end, Haidt attributes this to the culture created by electronic social media (i.e., the Internet), which has exacerbated tribalism in many ways.  Although he offers solutions to the problem, since the Internet is here to stay, he actually sees things getting worse, not better, for his solutions aren’t likely to be adopted (or, if they are, are still overwhelmed by the hegemony of the Internet). Neverthless, he’s persisting.

Click below to read. Given that the piece is 15 pages long when printed out in 10-point type, I’m not going to even try to summarize his many points. I’ll just outline the main thrust of his argument. But I emphasize that this is a very good piece and well worth your time. Haidt’s quotes are indented:

The problem:

It’s been clear for quite a while now that red America and blue America are becoming like two different countries claiming the same territory, with two different versions of the Constitution, economics, and American history. But Babel is not a story about tribalism; it’s a story about the fragmentation of everything. It’s about the shattering of all that had seemed solid, the scattering of people who had been a community. It’s a metaphor for what is happening not only between red and blue, but within the left and within the right, as well as within universities, companies, professional associations, museums, and even families.

Haidt dates the real increase in tribalism to between 2011 and 2015, when social media really began taking off and incorporating some features, like the “retweet” or “like” button, that exacerbated tribalism. And the most inimical result of this was a loss of trust:

Recent academic studies suggest that social media is indeed corrosive to trust in governments, news media, and people and institutions in general. A working paper that offers the most comprehensive review of the research, led by the social scientists Philipp Lorenz-Spreen and Lisa Oswald, concludes that “the large majority of reported associations between digital media use and trust appear to be detrimental for democracy.” The literature is complex—some studies show benefits, particularly in less developed democracies—but the review found that, on balance, social media amplifies political polarization; foments populism, especially right-wing populism; and is associated with the spread of misinformation.

When people lose trust in institutions, they lose trust in the stories told by those institutions. That’s particularly true of the institutions entrusted with the education of children. . .

The reasons: Haidt avers that “the warped ‘accountability’ of social media has also brought injustice—and political dysfunction in three ways.” I’ll give quotes:

1.) First, the dart guns of social media give more power to trolls and provocateurs while silencing good citizens. Research by the political scientists Alexander Bor and Michael Bang Petersen found that a small subset of people on social-media platforms are highly concerned with gaining status and are willing to use aggression to do so. . .

2.) Second, the dart guns of social media give more power and voice to the political extremes while reducing the power and voice of the moderate majority.

3.) Finally, by giving everyone a dart gun, social media deputizes everyone to administer justice with no due process. Platforms like Twitter devolve into the Wild West, with no accountability for vigilantes. A successful attack attracts a barrage of likes and follow-on strikes. Enhanced-virality platforms thereby facilitate massive collective punishment for small or imagined offenses, with real-world consequences, including innocent people losing their jobs and being shamed into suicide. When our public square is governed by mob dynamics unrestrained by due process, we don’t get justice and inclusion; we get a society that ignores context, proportionality, mercy, and truth.

All of this rings true, of course, but Haidt also cites a number of studies supporting his arguments. He sees “stupidity” on both the Right and Left that has been promoted by social media:

Stupidity On the Right: 

The traditional punishment for treason is death, hence the battle cry on January 6: “Hang Mike Pence.” Right-wing death threats, many delivered by anonymous accounts, are proving effective in cowing traditional conservatives, for example in driving out local election officials who failed to “stop the steal.” The wave of threats delivered to dissenting Republican members of Congress has similarly pushed many of the remaining moderates to quit or go silent, giving us a party ever more divorced from the conservative tradition, constitutional responsibility, and reality. We now have a Republican Party that describes a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol as “legitimate political discourse,” supported—or at least not contradicted—by an array of right-wing think tanks and media organizations.

The stupidity on the right is most visible in the many conspiracy theories spreading across right-wing media and now into Congress. “Pizzagate,” QAnon, the belief that vaccines contain microchips, the conviction that Donald Trump won reelection—it’s hard to imagine any of these ideas or belief systems reaching the levels that they have without Facebook and Twitter.

Stupidity On the Left:

The Democrats have also been hit hard by structural stupidity, though in a different way. In the Democratic Party, the struggle between the progressive wing and the more moderate factions is open and ongoing, and often the moderates win. The problem is that the left controls the commanding heights of the culture: universities, news organizations, Hollywood, art museums, advertising, much of Silicon Valley, and the teachers’ unions and teaching colleges that shape K–12 education. And in many of those institutions, dissent has been stifled: When everyone was issued a dart gun in the early 2010s, many left-leaning institutions began shooting themselves in the brain. And unfortunately, those were the brains that inform, instruct, and entertain most of the country.

Liberals in the late 20th century shared a belief that the sociologist Christian Smith called the “liberal progress” narrative, in which America used to be horrifically unjust and repressive, but, thanks to the struggles of activists and heroes, has made (and continues to make) progress. . .

But when the newly viralized social-media platforms gave everyone a dart gun, it was younger progressive activists who did the most shooting, and they aimed a disproportionate number of their darts at these older liberal leaders. Confused and fearful, the leaders rarely challenged the activists or their nonliberal narrative in which life at every institution is an eternal battle among identity groups over a zero-sum pie, and the people on top got there by oppressing the people on the bottom. This new narrative is rigidly egalitarian––focused on equality of outcomes, not of rights or opportunities. It is unconcerned with individual rights.

The universal charge against people who disagree with this narrative is not “traitor”; it is “racist,” “transphobe,” “Karen,” or some related scarlet letter marking the perpetrator as one who hates or harms a marginalized group. The punishment that feels right for such crimes is not execution; it is public shaming and social death.

There’s a section of Haidt’s piece called “It’s going to get much worse”, in which he argues that if we don’t counteract these changes (and of course digital media is here to stay), then “our institutions, our political system, and our society may collapse during the next major war, pandemic, financial meltdown, or constitutional crisis.” Several readers have been saying things like this before, but they usually impute the future downfall entirely to the Right. Haidt thinks that everyone, Right or Left, can promote this collapse.

So what is his solution? Again, it’s threefold, and again I quote:

1.) “Harden democratic institutions so that they can withstand chronic anger and mistrust.”

. . . we must reform key institutions so that they can continue to function even if levels of anger, misinformation, and violence increase far above those we have today.

For instance, the legislative branch was designed to require compromise, yet Congress, social media, and partisan cable news channels have co-evolved such that any legislator who reaches across the aisle may face outrage within hours from the extreme wing of her party, damaging her fundraising prospects and raising her risk of being primaried in the next election cycle.

Reforms should reduce the outsize influence of angry extremists and make legislators more responsive to the average voter in their district.

2.) “Reform social media so that it becomes less socially corrosive.”

But it is within our power to reduce social media’s ability to dissolve trust and foment structural stupidity. Reforms should limit the platforms’ amplification of the aggressive fringes while giving more voice to what More in Common calls “the exhausted majority.”

. . . the main problem with social media is not that some people post fake or toxic stuff; it’s that fake and outrage-inducing content can now attain a level of reach and influence that was not possible before 2009. The Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen advocates for simple changes to the architecture of the platforms, rather than for massive and ultimately futile efforts to police all content. For example, she has suggested modifying the “Share” function on Facebook so that after any content has been shared twice, the third person in the chain must take the time to copy and paste the content into a new post. Reforms like this are not censorship; they are viewpoint-neutral and content-neutral, and they work equally well in all languages. They don’t stop anyone from saying anything; they just slow the spread of content that is, on average, less likely to be true.

Perhaps the biggest single change that would reduce the toxicity of existing platforms would be user verification as a precondition for gaining the algorithmic amplification that social media offers.

By “user verification,” Haidt doesn’t mean that users must give their real names online. Rather, it means verifying to the platform “that you are a real human being, in a particular country, and are old enough to be using the platform.”  That sounds eminently reasonable to me, and platforms could pledge to keep names anonymous or pseudonymous.

3.) “Better prepare the next generation for democratic citizenship in this new age.”

Haidt has long criticized the notion of “helicopter parenting,” which tends to give children a sense of fragility and has, he’s maintained (along with Greg Lukianoff), contributed to the syndrome of victimization and tribalism that characterizes wokeness. Here are two of Haidt’s suggestions:

The most important change we can make to reduce the damaging effects of social media on children is to delay entry until they have passed through puberty. Congress should update the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which unwisely set the age of so-called internet adulthood (the age at which companies can collect personal information from children without parental consent) at 13 back in 1998, while making little provision for effective enforcement. The age should be raised to at least 16, and companies should be held responsible for enforcing it.

More generally, to prepare the members of the next generation for post-Babel democracy, perhaps the most important thing we can do is let them out to play. Stop starving children of the experiences they most need to become good citizens: free play in mixed-age groups of children with minimal adult supervision. Every state should follow the lead of Utah, Oklahoma, and Texas and pass a version of the Free-Range Parenting Law that helps assure parents that they will not be investigated for neglect if their 8- or 9-year-old children are spotted playing in a park. With such laws in place, schools, educators, and public-health authorities should then encourage parents to let their kids walk to school and play in groups outside, just as more kids used to do.

I’m not sure how the first provision will reduce damages, unless it works to prohibit kids from using social media at all until they’re 16 (can they enter earlier with parental consent?). But if that’s the solution, it seems unworkable to me. Perhaps you can prevent a kid from posting on social media until he or she is 16, but the exposure to tribalism will still be there,. Well, perhaps preventing the ability of kids to interact with others could stave off some psychological damage, anger, and tribalism.

As for the second second suggestion, “let the kids out to play,” I’m wholly in favor of that. Yes, it’s how I and my generation were brought up, and it did confer a tremendous sense of freedom. When I came home from school, or especially on weekends, I just got on my bike and pedaled away to have adventures with my friends, or simply to visit them. And I walked to school every day from the sixth grade on (I was 12; before that I took a bus as the distance was greater). The only thing that’s changed since then is that the the threat of violence to kids on their own (I think Lukianoff and Haidt give the evidence in their book) has decreased. 

But still parents simply won’t let their kids run free. In fact, in some places it’s illegal. Like Haidt, I’m not suggesting that kids be allowed to run wild at all hours, but simply that parental supervision be minimized or removed in some cases.  While I’m not sure how much this will reduce future enmity, it will certainly promote maturity and the ability to form harmonious groups through social interaction and negotiation. And maybe that will reduce tribalism.

I am not an expert in social psychology, but Haidt is. I’m not really qualified, either, to pass judgement on his diagnoses and prescriptions. All I can say is that they ring true. As for things getting worse rather than better, I’m inclined to go with that as well. I don’t see the Right and Left becoming more conciliatory, and the tide of social-media demonization and punishment seems to be rising, not falling.

Is the Left bailing on free speech in social media?

March 26, 2021 • 12:30 pm

I haven’t read much from Matt Taibbi, nor do I know much about him. Finally, I can’t vouch for a lot of assertions in his substack column below, but I thought it was interesting enough to post (click on the screenshot to read).

The headline was what grabbed me, for I wouldn’t be keen on somebody important in the Biden administration having “troubling” views on free speech. It turns out that I’m not sure how important Timothy Wu is (Biden appointed him to the National Economic Council), but he does write op-eds for the New York Times and has spent a lot of time criticizing the biases of social media networks like Facebook, so let’s see what he says.

Taibbi’s point is that although the First Amendment isn’t in danger—not with the Supreme Court as it is—the actions of Twitter, Facebook, and other such venues do endanger speech. It happens, argues Taibbi, because the Left is now trying to get those companies to censor the kind of speech they don’t like. (I’m not arguing, of course, that only the Left is censorious. We know that the opposite is true: remember Donald Trump and the “fake news” trope?) But now that the Left is in power in the executive and legislative branches, Taibbi’s worried that they are going to control what can be said on social media.

Here’s Taibbi’s take on Wu’s views (Taibbi’s words):

The Cliff’s Notes version of Wu’s thesis:

— The framers wrote the Bill of Rights in an atmosphere where speech was expensive and rare. The Internet made speech cheap, and human attentionrare. Speech-hostile societies like Russia and China have already shown how to capitalize on this “cheap speech” era, eschewing censorship and bans in favor of “flooding” the Internet with pro-government propaganda.

— As a result, those who place faith in the First Amendment to solve speech dilemmas should “admit defeat” and imagine new solutions for repelling foreign propaganda, fake news, and other problems. “In some cases,” Wu writes, “this could mean that the First Amendment must broaden its own reach to encompass new techniques of speech control.” What might that look like? He writes, without irony: “I think the elected branches should be allowed, within reasonable limits, to try returning the country to the kind of media environment that prevailed in the 1950s.”

— More ominously, Wu suggests that in modern times, the government may be more of a bystander to a problem in which private platforms play the largest roles. Therefore, a potential solution (emphasis mine) “boils down to asking whether these platforms should adopt (or be forced to adopt) norms and policies traditionally associated with twentieth-century journalism.”

That last line is what should make speech advocates worry.

Why should we worry? Because, says Taibbi, authoritarian “progressive” liberals may be looking not to break up companies like Facebook, but rather to influence them to ban just those sources that they don’t like.  As evidence for this, Taibbi posts this video of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez grilling Mark Zuckerberg before Congress (“AOC” is, of course, the face of “progressive Democrats”):

His take:

You can see this mentality in the repeated exchanges between Congress and Silicon Valley executives. An example is the celebrated October 23, 2019 questioning of Mark Zuckerberg by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a House Financial Services Committee hearing. The congresswoman, as staunch a believer in the new approach to speech as there is in modern Democratic Party politics, repeatedly asks Zuckerberg questions like, “So, you won’t take down lies or you will take down lies?” and “Why you label the Daily Caller, a publication well-documented with ties to white supremacists, as an official fact-checker for Facebook?”

Grasping that everyone who’s ever thought about speech issues throughout our history has been concerned with the publication of falsehoods, incitement to violence, libel, hate speech, and other problems, the issue here isn’t the what, but the who. The question isn’t whether or not you think the Daily Caller should be fact-checking, but whether you think it’s appropriate to leave Mark Zuckerberg in charge of naming anyone at all a fact-checker. AOC doesn’t seem to be upset that Zuckerberg has so much authority, but rather that he’s not using it to her liking.

While the first bit of the grilling didn’t seem so bad, I could see by the end what Taibbi was worried about. Zuckerberg isn’t concerned about angering the Right; he’s worried about angering the Left, who now have the power to monitor him and, if he doesn’t act the way they want, to shut him down.  While of course companies like Facebook should and do monitor First Amendment violations like false advertising and threats or defamation, they should, in my view, conform as closely to the First Amendment as they can, realizing that they do this voluntarily since they’re not arms of the government. Why should “offensive” but legal speech be allowed in public but banned on Facebook?

To prove libel or slander, which are not permitted under the First Amendment, you have to show that the poster deliberately lied knowing it would cause damage to someone. And that’s not easy to do on a platform the size of Facebook. I tend to want them to err on the side of permitting speech, and I’m not sure that AOC is on that boat.

Finally, Taibbi has one more worry: Wu’s comment, “I think the elected branches should be allowed, within reasonable limits, to try returning the country to the kind of media environment that prevailed in the 1950s.”

Taibbi’s take:

Wu’s comment about “returning… to the kind of media environment that prevailed in the 1950s” is telling. This was a disastrous period in American media that not only resulted in a historically repressive atmosphere of conformity, but saw all sorts of glaring social problems covered up or de-emphasized with relative ease, from Jim Crow laws to fraudulent propaganda about communist infiltration to overthrows and assassinations in foreign countries.

The wink-wink arrangement that big media companies had with the government persisted through the early sixties, and enabled horribly destructive lies about everything from the Bay of Pigs catastrophe to the Missile Gap to go mostly unchallenged, for a simple reason: if you give someone formal or informal power to choke off lies, they themselves may now lie with impunity. It’s Whac-a-Mole: in an effort to solve one problem, you create a much bigger one elsewhere, incentivizing official deceptions.

That 1950s period is attractive to modern politicians because it was a top-down system. This was the era in which worship of rule by technocratic experts became common, when the wisdom of the “Best and the Brightest” was unchallenged. A yearning to return to those times runs through these new theories about speech, and is prevalent throughout today’s Washington, a city that seems to think everything should be run by people with graduate degrees.

And his conclusion:

Going back to a system of stewardship of the information landscape by such types isn’t a 21st-century idea. It’s a proven 20th-century failure, and signing up Silicon Valley for a journey backward in time won’t make it work any better.

Well, I don’t know whether to worry, but I’ll put this on the back burner, for there are real violations of the First Amendment going on in organizations like public schools and universities that must adhere to Constitutional freedom of speech. However, some readers must have thought more deeply about this issue than I, and I welcome your thoughts below.


UPDATE: In his latest Substack column (paywalled, but you can see the entirety in an email if you subscribe), Glenn Greeenwald faults Zuckerberg for being scripted and robotic, but also the Democrates for favoring social-media censorship:

But it is vital not to lose sight of how truly despotic hearings like this are. It is easy to overlook because we have become so accustomed to political leaders successfully demanding that social media companies censor the internet in accordance with their whims. Recall that Parler, at the time it was the most-downloaded app in the country, was removed in January from the Apple and Google Play Stores and then denied internet service by Amazon, only after two very prominent Democratic House members publicly demanded this. At the last pro-censorship hearing convened by Congress, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) explicitly declared that the Democrats’ grievance is not that these companies are censoring too much but rather not enough. One Democrat after the next at Thursday’s hearing described all the content on the internet they want gone: or else. Many of them said this explicitly.


Quillette banned from Facebook

February 18, 2021 • 9:00 am

A lot of people don’t like Quillette because they consider it an “alt-right” site.  That’s not true: it’s a “contrarian” site that publishes stuff that’s often critical of the extreme or authoritarian Left. And I have to give kudos to editor Claire Lehmann for building up the site from nothing to a go-to site for those who are generally liberal but can’t stand wokeness, censorship, or authoritarianism. While there’s some plonk on the site, there are also a lot of good reads.

The site isn’t full of Nazis or white supremacists, so I was baffled to get a mass email from Claire declaring that Quillette has been banned from Facebook. An excerpt:

As you may have heard, Facebook has blocked Australian users from viewing or sharing news content on their platform. The mass-blocking is in response to new media laws proposed by the Australian Government which would mean that digital giants such as Facebook are required to pay for news content.

I have been critical of the proposed media code. We did not expect to benefit from it at Quillette, and we generally take a neutral position on battles between legacy media corporations and multinational digital giants.

But in resistance to the proposed laws, Facebook has now blocked Australian news sites, and Quillette has been included in the wide net that has been cast. Our Facebook page has been wiped and our links are blocked on the platform. If you would like to share a Quillette article on Facebook you will be unable to, even if you live outside of Australia.

Currently, Facebook is our third source of traffic referral, with the platform having sent over six million readers our way since our inception. Losing this stream of traffic is a significant and unexpected blow, and it will impact our revenue.
Other Facebook pages have also been caught in the dragnet. Australian Government Health Department pages, local Fire and Rescue services, weather services such as the Bureau of Meteorology and academic forums such as The Conversation have all been blocked. This is clearly a ham-fisted response. The proposed code has not been passed into law, yet Facebook is attempting to manoeuvre the Australian Government into submission.
The article referred to in Claire’s tweet is from Bloomberg Technology, and refers to a proposed law requiring sites like Facebook and Twitter to pay news sources when displaying their articles. That would mean, for instance, that if somone shared a news article on Facebook (including the news source itself, many of which share articles on Twitter), Facebook would have to pay that news source. That, of course, is insane, because it’s free publicity from the social-media site and if the news site charges for access, like the New York Times, readers would still have to pay to read an article.

Apparently Google and Facebook objected, and succeeded in securing an “arbitration panel” that would decide how much compensation should be given to the news sources.

But I’m still puzzled as to why Quillette, which isn’t really a “news source”, and doesn’t share direct links to news sources (save as hyperlinks in the text), was blocked—along with first responder and weather pages. Who’s running the railroad Down Under?  At any rate, some folks won’t be able to share Quillette links on Facebook (I’ll try doing it myself) until this blows over. In the meantime, Claire has asked for donations to the organization, and you can follow her personal Facebook page.

I just did an experiment trying to share a Quillette link on Facebook, and it worked (see below). I guess only Australian users can’t put up posts like this:

The New York Times celebrates a cancellation

December 28, 2020 • 10:45 am

Let me get this straight at the outset: in my view, nobody should use the “n-word”, except perhaps in quoting its use in literature or for didactic reasons. Yes, black people use it as a term of fraternity or affection, but I learned from Grania that if the word is to disappear from use, everyone has to stop using it.  It’s almost as if Jews were allowed to call each other “kikes” and “Hebes” but other people weren’t. (We don’t do that.) But at the very least, white people have to stop using it in non-academic circumstances.

So I think that when 15 year old high-school student Mimi Groves of Leesburg, Virginia was filmed in a three-second video four years ago, saying “I can drive, n—–“, (she’d just gotten her learner’s permit), she should have kept her mouth shut. But she didn’t, and now is suffering the consequences. In my view, those consequences are completely disproportionate to this one statement, and yet the New York Times implicitly sees her as having got her just deserts, despite lacking any further evidence of racism in her behavior. In the piece below, it looks as if they’re celebrating her cancellation.

You can see what caused all the fuss at the beginning of this video, which shows what Groves said, with the offending word bleeped out:

As this article recounts (click on screenshot), one of Groves’s friends, a half black student named Jimmy Galligan—who was sick of racism in Leesburg—got hold of that video, held onto it, and waited until the time when making it public would do the most damage to Groves. Then he did the deed, and social media did the rest. The time was after Groves had been admitted to her dream college. Groves was first taken off the cheerleading squad at the University of Tennessee, and then the college asked her to withdraw. It was all because of those three seconds and that one word.

According to the article, both Leesburg and Galligan’s and Groves’s high school were permeated with racism attitudes, and, this being Virginia, I have no reason to doubt that. Galligan, frustrated with the racism and his futile attempts to alleviate it, decided to use the video of Groves as a form of punishment, even though the two were friendly:

The slur, [Galligan] said, was regularly hurled in classrooms and hallways throughout his years in the Loudoun County school district. He had brought the issue up to teachers and administrators but, much to his anger and frustration, his complaints had gone nowhere.

So he held on to the video, which was sent to him by a friend, and made a decision that would ricochet across Leesburg, Va., a town named for an ancestor of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee and whose school system had fought an order to desegregate for more than a decade after the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling.

“I wanted to get her where she would understand the severity of that word,” Mr. Galligan, 18, whose mother is Black and father is white, said of the classmate who uttered the slur, Mimi Groves. He tucked the video away, deciding to post it publicly when the time was right.

The time was when Groves had decided where she wanted to go to college: the University of Tennessee (UT).  Galligan then shared the Snapchat video to several social media platforms even though by that time Groves was making statements in favor of Black Lives Matter.  And by that time she’d been admitted to UT and had apparently also made its famous cheerleading team (a dream of hers), even though she hadn’t started going there yet. The story continues with the now-familiar social media mobbing.

The next month, as protests were sweeping the nation after the police killing of George Floyd, Ms. Groves, in a public Instagram post, urged people to “protest, donate, sign a petition, rally, do something” in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. [JAC: Note that this is before she knew that the video was spreading.]

“You have the audacity to post this, after saying the N-word,” responded someone whom Ms. Groves said she did not know.

Her alarm at the stranger’s comment turned to panic as friends began calling, directing her to the source of a brewing social media furor. Mr. Galligan, who had waited until Ms. Groves had chosen a college, had publicly posted the video that afternoon. Within hours, it had been shared to Snapchat, TikTok and Twitter, where furious calls mounted for the University of Tennessee to revoke its admission offer.

And she was cancelled; or rather, kicked off the cheerleading team and then had her offer of admission to UT rescinded:

The consequences were swift. Over the next two days, Ms. Groves was removed from the university’s cheer team. She then withdrew from the school under pressure from admissions officials, who told her they had received hundreds of emails and phone calls from outraged alumni, students and the public.

“They’re angry, and they want to see some action,” an admissions official told Ms. Groves and her family, according to a recording of the emotional call reviewed by The New York Times.

Ms. Groves was among many incoming freshmen across the country whose admissions offers were revoked by at least a dozen universities after videos emerged on social media of them using racist language.

The rest of the article is devoted to describing the atmosphere of racism in the Leesburg schools, which does seems pretty dire and reprehensible. The n-word was used often, and black students were disciplined disproportionately.  The NYT describes this atmosphere in detail, and one can’t help but feel that the racism of Leesburg, not of Mimi Groves, is the real subject of the article. That’s fine, except that Groves’s rescinded offer, for using one word in a three-second video, is characterized as “retribution” for that racism. There’s no other record of Groves’s behaving or speaking in a racist way; she is serving as the scapegoat for the whole atmosphere of racism in Leesburg. And yet the NYT says things like this, which seem gratuitous:

Ms. Groves, who just turned 19, lives with her parents and two siblings in a predominantly white and affluent gated community built around a golf course.

Is Groves a racist? I wouldn’t call her one despite the use of that word four years ago. For she has no history of racism, and was taught to despite the attitude. Would a racist put up a post asking people to support Black Lives Matter?

Here’s some more from the article:

On a recent day, [Mimi] sat outside on the deck with her mother, Marsha Groves, who described how the entire family had struggled with the consequences of the very public shaming.

“It honestly disgusts me that those words would come out of my mouth,” Mimi Groves said of her video. “How can you convince somebody that has never met you and the only thing they’ve ever seen of you is that three-second clip?”

Ms. Groves said racial slurs and hate speech were not tolerated by her parents, who had warned their children to never post anything online that they would not say in person or want their parents and teachers to read.

But there’s no stopping the mob. I emphasize again that Mimi Groves used a racial slur, and should not have. But should she have suffered the loss of a college admission four years later? It was not as if her whole life had been an act of racism.


Once the video went viral, the backlash was swift, and relentless. A photograph of Ms. Groves, captioned with a racial slur, also began circulating online, but she and her parents say someone else wrote it to further tarnish her reputation. On social media, people tagged the University of Tennessee and its cheer team, demanding her admission be rescinded. Some threatened her with physical violence if she came to the university campus. The next day, local media outlets in Virginia and Tennessee published articles about the uproar.

. . .The day after the video went viral, Ms. Groves tried to defend herself in tense calls with the university. But the athletics department swiftly removed Ms. Groves from the cheer team. And then came the call in which admissions officials began trying to persuade her to withdraw, saying they feared she would not feel comfortable on campus.

The university declined to comment about Ms. Groves beyond a statement it issued on Twitter in June, in which officials said they took seriously complaints about racist behavior.

Ms. Groves’s parents, who said their daughter was being targeted by a social media “mob” for a mistake she made as an adolescent, urged university officials to assess her character by speaking with her high school and cheer coaches. Instead, admissions officials gave her an ultimatum: withdraw or the university would rescind her offer of admission.

“We just needed it to stop, so we withdrew her,” said Mrs. Groves, adding that the entire experience had “vaporized” 12 years of her daughter’s hard work. “They rushed to judgment and unfortunately it’s going to affect her for the rest of her life.”

Now Groves goes to a community college online in California, and yes, her life has been severely affected. I suspect that’s exactly what Mr. Galligan wanted, and why he waited to release the video when it could do maximum damage to Groves.

My take: Groves spoke thoughtlessly, but showed no other evidence of racism, and even apologized before the video became public. Galligan could have discussed it with her personally, which is the way I would handle it if someone called me a “kike”.  And the University of Tennessee could have simply asked Groves to issue a public apology, mirroring the one described below, without kicking her out of the school. More from the article: 

One of Ms. Groves’s friends, who is Black, said Ms. Groves had personally apologized for the video long before it went viral. Once it did in June, the friend defended Ms. Groves online, prompting criticism from strangers and fellow students. “We’re supposed to educate people,” she wrote in a Snapchat post, “not ruin their lives all because you want to feel a sense of empowerment.”

For his role, Mr. Galligan said he had no regrets. “If I never posted that video, nothing would have ever happened,” he said. And because the internet never forgets, the clip will always be available to watch.

“I’m going to remind myself, you started something,” he said with satisfaction. “You taught someone a lesson.”

I’m sorry, but although Galligan certainly experienced offensive behavior because he’s half black, his behavior towards Groves was not admirable. He did what Cancel Culture dictates: rather than fix the situation by talking with his friend, he decided to ruin her life. As Mimi’s friend said, “We’re supposed to educate people, not ruin their lives. . ” Had Groves shown a pattern of racist behavior throughout high school, that would be another thing—but she didn’t. There is a time for forgiveness and reconciliation, and that time was before Galligan released his video. He is not a person I admire, though I sympathize with the racism he experienced.

I’m not the only one who feels that the NYT doesn’t see anything wrong with this incident. By going into the racism of the entire town, describing Grave’s home as “in a predominantly white community”, and detailing incidents in local schools that did not involves Groves, it make Groves implicitly complicit in the racism.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines “reckoning” this way (the only definition relevant to the use above):

6. The settlement of accounts or differences between parties; the settling of scores or grievances; an instance of this.

Were scores really “settled”? Did Groves receive her just deserts for using that word in 2016? Why choose a headline like that?

Well, you can judge for yourself.  As for me, I think that Galligan behaved very poorly in trying to ruin somebody’s life, and that the New York Times thinks that that’s just fine. Here are two people who agree with me (I wouldn’t call Galligan a “psychopath”; that word is too strong):

Scott Greenfield has a blog post about it, linked in his tweet below.

Two things that Cancel Culture needs—besides engaging with ideas rather than trying to destroy people—are some compassion and a sense of proportionality. And if you don’t think that Cancel Culture exists, you’re sorely mistaken, for that’s what took down Mimi Groves.

Google Easter eggs

October 24, 2020 • 1:30 pm

Reader Mark Sturtevant called my attention to something that most of us probably don’t know about: Google “Easter Eggs”: results of searches that yield a bonus.

He found one this way:

I did not know that Google had ‘Easter eggs’.
But here is one:
In Google, type in: wizard of oz
Click on the red slippers,
then click on the tornado.
Yes, it’s a little cute “find” that you have to know about to see.  When you Google, you’ll see this; click on the red slippers and then after some kerfuffle you’ll get a tornado. Click on that and you’ll get a different kerfuffle.

Then I found out (by Googling, of course), that there’s a Big List of Google Easter Eggs. Some are retired, but there are enough to amuse you for a while. I don’t know how one finds these things; presumably people hit on them by accident. But how did they know to click on the red shoes? Does that triangular symbol to the left tell you?