Category Archives: Ruling Class

Big Tech is fixing the election

Big Tech is fixing the election

Twitter, Facebook and similar social platforms are operating almost with impunity influencing the national conversation to their liking.  This is much more dangerous than anything Donald Trump or conservatives have even thought about.  mrossol 

Unherd  10/16/2020  By Douglas Murray

For years there has been a growing concern about the influence of Big Tech. Increasingly, the giant platforms have been muting, shadow-banning and occasionally chucking people off the sites entirely. But few saw the emerging problem because the users being targetted were either not desirable enough or not big enough for the world to bother itself over.

But developments this week may have changed that, with the tech giants daring to make their biggest encroachments so far in deciding what the public could and could not know.

On Wednesday, the New York Post published a major exposé on the activities of Hunter Biden, son of the Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The investigation, based on leaked emails, revealed the manner in which Biden Jnr had used his father’s connections to pitch for lucrative contracts with Ukrainian businessmen. Since then, more news has emerged of the younger Biden seeking remuneration from Chinese firms, among others. In an election season this is, of course, explosive stuff — but it is also information that the American public have a right to know.

Since Joe Biden presents himself as the honest candidate in this election, the fact that his family members may have been enriching themselves through their connections is relevant to the decision the voters are about to make.

But Big Tech decided that they couldn’t know it. On Wednesday, after the New York Post story emerged, both Twitter and Facebook made an unprecedented move into overt censorship, with the world’s largest social media companies deciding to prevent the dissemination of the story. They did everything they could to stop it from getting out, with Twitter in particular blocking users from posting links to the Post’s article, initially claiming that sharing of the piece violated the platform’s rules on the use of hacked materials.

The idea that the Hunter Biden emails are the result of a hack is disputed. But even if the claim were accurate, it is not the case that these platforms usually take a strong line against stories based on hacked material. Over recent years, there have been numerous stories, from celebrity gossip to major political stories like the DNC nomination scandal at the 2016 election, which have come about solely because of the use of hacked information. Yet Twitter did not prevent people from sharing them, so the claim that “hacking” is the justification on this occasion is in fact nothing other than a retro-fit.

 

Yet on this spurious basis Twitter took a range of extraordinary actions, which included locking the accounts of the official Trump campaign and of the White House Press Secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, because they had dared to share the story. Such is the extraordinary power that the tech companies now have and the extraordinarily brazen behaviour they feel that they can get away with.

It is conceivable that Twitter might rightfully act if there were knowingly false information being disseminated ahead of an election by obscure or unknown actors seeking to affect an election. But it is quite another thing for the social media giant to decide that the reposting of a story in the New York Post — one of America’s oldest and most venerable papers, founded by Alexander Hamilton — should be cause to suppress the speech of the White House Press Secretary. This is not an attempt to prevent interference in an election — it is itself interference in an election. Interference carried out by Facebook and Twitter, tech giants and monopolies in possession of unprecedented amounts of power.

Perhaps people should have woken up to such actions by Big Tech earlier — but too often the platform’s targets seemed to be too obscure or unpleasant to find defenders. So they slowly — and occasionally in sudden purges — chucked out people who they decided to be “hateful”, so people such as Katie Hopkins or Milo Yiannopoulos.

Yet on top of this, Twitter went for a less overt form of control by using its power to quietly muffle accounts (“shadow-banning”) without anybody noticing. In the last year, this has been formalised by the site, which has made its users sign a new agreement conceding that the platform has the right to filter and manipulate which voices its users do or do not hear. But, most people decided, things go on as before and shadow-banning was just for other people.

So while the platform picked off or muted obscure or unpleasant figures, they — and the rest of us — clearly lost sight of exactly where a line could be drawn. And inevitably the bloated, over-rich, overpowerful and under-informed tech entities thought that they should decide where that line was.

So here we are, in the weeks before the election, with the platforms suppressing a story that affects one candidate, trying to pretend that one of America’s great papers is an unreliable source (and if they want to play that game, then wait until they discover the New York Times), and blocking the social media account of the White House Press Secretary.

 

One other turn in this story deserves to be noticed. On Wednesday Twitter had as its top story a minor exchange in the confirmation hearings of Amy Coney Barrett for a position on the Supreme Court, during which Senator Mazie Hirono claimed that the use of the term “sexual preference” was an anti-gay slur. Hirono said that the phrase — which Amy Coney Barrett had only used earlier in passing — is “an offensive and outdated term”.

The claim itself is of course a crock. “Sexual preference” has been used for years and has no pejorative connotations. Indeed it has been used multiple times recently by no less a figure than Joe Biden; and just last month The Advocate (America’s main remaining legacy gay publication) used the term in a Tweet. So the story about Senator Hirono “calling out” Amy Coney Barrett was nothing other than a piece of political posturing.

If Barrett had been a man, the Democrats would have accused her of misogyny by now. If she had not adopted two black children and loved them, cared for them and brought them up as her own, then doubtless they would have attempted to accuse her of racism. But neither of these charges being available they instead made an attempt to accuse Barrett of homophobia, based on nothing more than the use of a term which everybody used until yesterday. Meanwhile Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary chose to update their entry on the term “sexual preference”, in order to pretend that the new “offensive” spin on the term was widely, indeed authoritatively recognised.

 

That this story — the most minor imaginable exchange which relied not just on a misrepresentation but a nasty little untruth — should have been the top chosen story on Twitter on Wednesday tells us something. This was not the story which users had put at the top of the site — it was the story that Twitter chose. And it did so on the very same day that an actual story from the New York Post could not be shared on the platform.

There have been many eye-opening moments with Big Tech in recent years. The companies have been repeatedly caught out lying, cheating and attempting to exert political influence under the guise of fact-checking. But Wednesday should be seen as a watershed moment — the moment when the last remaining pretences of the platforms were finally shed.

People may still use Twitter and Facebook. They may continue to find some value in them. But after this week there is no way of avoiding the fact that in doing so they are helping companies which have chosen to make overt interventions into the political process — and to do so in order that their chosen candidate wins.

We hear a lot about purported, exaggerated “foreign interference” in elections, but here is the real interference. It is done by an organisation more powerful than any government, more unaccountable than any politician and more sinister than anyone but the most crazed conspiracists could ever have guessed.

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What Legislative Powers Are Left for Impeachment to Defend?

Donald Trump’s presidency has visited unique miseries on U.S. governance, some of his making and many the doings of his opponents. But his parting infliction of chaos is the most illuminating.

The key is to understand the nature of President Trump’s offense, and precisely why the Senate may yet find it difficult to convict him for it despite Wednesday’s impeachment in the House. The offense for which he is almost certainly impeachable was the speech he gave the day of the Capitol Hill riot that incited a mob to obstruct Congress’s deliberations.

This must be the closest a president has ever come to the sort of infraction the Founders had in mind when they wrote the impeachment clause. Much of their political thought was stimulated by the English Civil War of the 1640s, sparked by Parliament’s attempts to defend its privileges against King Charles I (whose head parliamentarians ultimately claimed). That conflict between crown and Parliament has preoccupied English-language political philosophy ever since. Less time separated America’s founding generation from those events than now stands between us and the founding.

But what will Congress do about it? The Founders provided for political impeachment and conviction as the remedies for a dangerous executive. But to work, the mechanism requires a legislative branch deeply invested in and jealous of its powers and prepared to go to the political mat to defend them.

No wonder the current impeachment drive may falter, since today’s Congress is anything but protective of its unique institutional role. The House speaker who pushed forward impeachment this week is the same Nancy Pelosi who famously admitted in 2010 that Congress would have to pass the Affordable Care Act “so you can find out what’s in it.” Whatever figurative point she thought she was making, the statement was literally true: Most of what Congress did was hand executive agencies vague instructions to write new regulations, the full content of which would be as much of a surprise to legislators as anyone else.

This congressional abdication of lawmaking authority to executive agencies has become routine over the past few generations and under both parties. But if the speaker took no issue with handing the executive branch control over one-sixth of the economy, what congressional privileges does she think are left for her to protect from it now?

At other times Mrs. Pelosi has shunted legislative authority over to the mob. She said in July that “people will do what they do” when asked whether the City Council should have been consulted before rioters tore down a statue of Christopher Columbus in her childhood hometown of Baltimore. Apparently she thinks so little of legislative institutions that she believes they shouldn’t even decide which statues occupy public land.

Once the article of impeachment wends its way to the Senate, it will be in the hands of Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, whose respect for the division of powers is similarly suspect. He’s the one who warned Supreme Court justices they would “pay a price” if they ruled in a way he didn’t like on an abortion case. Not only was this an attempt to bully the judicial branch, but an abdication of the legislature’s privilege to write statutes. Mr. Schumer pressed the Supreme Court to use its ruling to craft de facto laws that Democrats can’t pass in Congress.

All of this matters now because greater institutional confidence would have helped the House to draft articles with a better chance of securing stronger bipartisan support—and a Senate conviction. The heart of the matter, and the House’s articles of impeachment, is the assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Yet Democrats couldn’t resist the temptation also to include, both in the article and in their floor speeches Wednesday, complaints about what a sore loser Mr. Trump has been these past two months, and extraneous matters such as a phone call to Georgia’s secretary of state that didn’t impede Congress’s prerogatives.

Those items take up space amounting to roughly one page out of the four in the article of impeachment the House passed. They also make it hard for Republicans to support because they are political complaints. The president’s offense is institutional, but a House that every day loses a bit more of its self-awareness now can view Mr. Trump only through the lens of partisan distaste. If one thing could give Senate Republicans a rosier view of the president, it was this sort of chicanery.

The perverse irony is that this means Mr. Trump was right all along. His promise to “drain the swamp,” targeted at Washington’s unelected and crony technocrats and political operatives, was nothing if not a pledge to restore power to elected officials (by which he meant primarily himself).

Now if he escapes conviction in his final days in office, it will be because the elected lawmakers who should have benefited most from this bog clearance have so thoroughly forgotten their constitutional role that they can’t defend it from the president.

Appeared in the January 15, 2021, print edition.

Source: What Legislative Powers Are Left for Impeachment to Defend? – WSJ

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World Leaders Denounce Big Tech Censorship

I have struggled over the years with Europe’s “harsh treatment” of some American companies, but I have having second thoughts. I am hearing things from there that should be coming from America. I am afraid the American Elites do not have an appreciation for what our First Amendment cost those who secured that right. mrossol

The Epoch Times, BY VICTORIA KELLY-CLARK
 
January 12, 2021 
 

Political elites worldwide have criticized big tech companies for banning President Donald Trump from their social media platforms.

At present, the president has been banned from Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat, Reddit, and Instagram.

Twitter permanently removed Trump’s account, saying that his recent posts were in violation of the “Glorification of Violence Policy.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Twitter’s ban on Trump “problematic,” and said that freedom of opinion is an essential right of “elementary significance,” her spokesperson, Steffen Siebert, said on Jan 11.

“This fundamental right can be intervened in, but according to the law and within the framework defined by legislators—not according to a decision by the management of social media platforms,” Siebert said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel answers questions about the German government’s policy at the parliament Bundestag, in Berlin, Germany, on Dec. 16, 2020 (Markus Schreiber/AP Photo).

“Seen from this angle, the chancellor considers it problematic that the accounts of the U.S. president have now been permanently blocked,” he said.

Members of the French government agreed.

Clement Beaune, the junior minister for European Union affairs, said he was “shocked” a private company made this kind of decision.

“This should be decided by citizens, not by a CEO,” he told Bloomberg TV on Monday. “There needs to be public regulation of big online platforms.”

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire also condemned the move and said that tech giants were part of a digital oligarchy that was a threat to democracy.

Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People’s Party—a centre-right political party—echoed Beaune and called for Big Tech firms to be regulated.

“We cannot leave it to American Big Tech to decide how we can or cannot discuss online. Today’s mechanisms destroy the compromise searching and consensus-building that are crucial in free and democratic societies. We need a stricter regulatory approach,” he wrote on Twitter on Jan. 11.

Meanwhile, Norway’s left-wing Labor Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre said that Big Tech censorship threatens political freedom around the world.

He said Twitter needs to apply the same standard globally that it did to Trump.

“This is a line where freedom of expression is also at stake,” said Støre. “If Twitter starts with this sort of thing, it means that they have to go around the world and look at other people completely astray, and shut them out.”

Epoch Times Photo
Then Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack in Parliament House in Canberra December 16, 2020. (Sam Mooy/Getty Images)

The Australian government has also called the ban on Trump an act of “censorship.”

Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack said, “There’s been a lot of people who have said and done a lot of things on Twitter previously that haven’t received that sort of condemnation or indeed censorship. I’m not one who believes in that sort of censorship.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he was uncomfortable with Twitter’s ban on Trump. “Those decisions were taken by commercial companies, but personally, I felt uncomfortable with what they did,” he said.

Quoting Voltaire’s famous line: “I may not agree with what you say, but I defend the right to say it,” Frydenberg said that freedom of speech is fundamental to a democratic society.

Fellow Liberal Party member and senator, Alex Antic, said he will push for a Senate Select Committee into Big Tech’s influence and censorship of political ideas when the Australian Parliament resumes next month.

Antic told The Epoch Times on Jan. 12 that he is concerned that Big Tech can so easily censor one side of the debate.

“Our democratic process is founded on our ability to share ideas freely and to be exposed to challenging and opposing viewpoints. It is crucial to the integrity of that process that Big Tech companies do not censor one side of the debate,” Antic said.

Mexican President Manuel López Obrador also echoed his global counterparts, with Reuters reporting that he said it was a bad sign when private companies try to censor opinion.

Obrador said a “court of censorship like an inquisition to manage public opinion.”

“I don’t like anybody being censored or taking away from the right to post a message on Twitter or Face(book),” he said.

In Russia, the opposition leader, Alexey Navalny, who is an outspoken anti-corruption campaigner, said he believed the ban was an unacceptable form of censorship and was based not on a genuine need but rather Twitter’s political preferences.

In a thread posted on the platform on Jan. 10, Navalny said: “Don’t tell me he was banned for violating Twitter rules. I get death threats here every day for many years, and Twitter doesn’t ban anyone.”

Alexei Navalny
Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny gestures while speaking to a crowd during a political protest on in Moscow, on July 20, 2019. (Pavel Golovkin/AP Photo)

He noted that this pattern had been seen before in both Russian and China when big companies utilise their position to become a government best friend and enabler when it comes to state-based censorship laws.

“This precedent will be exploited by the enemies of freedom of speech around the world. In Russia as well. Every time when they need to silence someone, they will say: ‘this is just common practice, even Trump got blocked on Twitter,’” he wrote on Twitter.

https://www.theepochtimes.com/world-leaders-denounce-big-tech-censorship-of-us-president-donald-trump_3652983.html?utm_source=news&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=breaking-2021-01-12-1

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Justice. Rebuke.

Ms. Strassel’s conclusions say it all.  mrossol

WSJ. 11/26/2020 By

Chief Justice John Marshall once described the presidential pardon as “an act of grace.” In the case of Mike Flynn, Donald Trump’s pardon was something more. It was a requirement of justice.

Mr. Trump announced on Twitter Wednesday that he’d granted Mr. Flynn a full pardon. Liberals and the media are (as per their tedious usual) claiming the president stepped in to aid a corrupt crony. This has it exactly backward. The Flynn pardon was necessary—to correct a corrupt Federal Bureau of Investigation, a rogue special counsel, an unprincipled federal judge, and an embarrassingly complicit media.

This story dripped out over years, so it took until recently to get a full accounting of the government’s Trump-by-proxy takedown of Mr. Flynn. A decorated veteran, Mr. Flynn advised the Trump campaign and in November 2016 was named national security adviser. The FBI had spent months monitoring him as part of its Russia-collusion fantasy, yet by Jan. 4, 2017, it had found nothing and moved to close its case.

In rushed Peter Strzok—the now-disgraced then-FBI agent—to keep the investigation open. The FBI had snooped on a Flynn call to the then-Russian ambassador to the U.S. This is perfectly legal; ask Joe Biden’s team, which is making such calls now. The FBI nonetheless debated a ludicrous Logan Act charge, before settling on a simpler course. As former FBI counterintelligence head Bill Priestap put it in handwritten notes, one FBI option was “to get [Mr. Flynn] to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired.”

The FBI didn’t need to interview the National Security Agency about his conversation; it had the transcript. Yet the bureau’s then-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe sandbagged Mr. Flynn, arranging for him to meet with FBI agents without a lawyer. Former FBI Director Jim Comey later gloated over the setup. The FBI also chose not to provide Mr. Flynn a standard warning against lying, to keep him comfortable. Despite all this, the agents reported—according to government notes—that they “believe that F. believes that what he said was true.” He didn’t intentionally lie.

Fast forward to Robert Mueller, who didn’t care. The FBI knew in January 2017 that its collusion investigation was a bust; it confirmed the Steele dossier was a fabrication. So Mr. Comey engineered a special counsel to salvage the FBI’s reputation by ginning up unrelated “crimes.” Mr. Mueller dredged up the Flynn interview and threatened to prosecute the former national security adviser’s son unless Mr. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying. Facing bankruptcy, Mr. Flynn succumbed to this naked abuse of power.

Hope came with a new lawyer and Attorney General William Barr’s 2020 decision to review the case. But even as the executive branch moved to right its wrongs, a federal judge took up the persecutorial torch. In May the Justice Department moved to drop its case, presenting Judge Emmet Sullivan with veteran prosecutor Jeffrey Jensen’s assessment that the FBI never had a legitimate purpose in interviewing Mr. Flynn, that he should never have been prosecuted. The department also presented papers documenting the FBI’s shocking behavior.

The Justice Department, not judges, makes the call on whom to prosecute. Yet Judge Sullivan refused to accept the withdrawal, instead indulging his politics and his inner petty tyrant. He went so far as to appoint a fellow conspiracy theorist, retired Judge John Gleeson, to spout evidence-free claims that prosecutors were giving special treatment to Mr. Flynn. Judge Sullivan’s behavior was so outrageous that a federal appeals panel in June ordered him to dismiss the case. The full appellate court in August agreed to let him hold a hearing while warning him to get his act together.

Judge Sullivan held his hearing in September but by this week had yet to rule. Mr. Trump might have waited, in hope that Judge Sullivan would feel mounting pressure to regain some credibility by dismissing. Then again, there was every reason to believe the judge would string this out beyond Jan. 20. He’s made clear all along he wants Mr. Flynn subject to an avenging Biden Justice Department. Not because Mr. Flynn broke the law, but because Mr. Flynn is a stand-in for a president the judicial, prosecutorial and media elites despise.

That’s the sad reality of the Flynn mess. In a better world, the Flynn case would have been dismissed with prejudice, an on-the-record censure of appalling FBI and Justice Department behavior. But that’s why the judge refused to do it. It had nothing to do with guilt or innocence—but rather reputation. We remain in the last gasps of Never Trump world, where people of power told themselves it was OK to break rules, norms, standards—even the law—in their quest to take the president down. To dismiss the Flynn case would have been to acknowledge that this behavior was wrong. And that would have been too painful, too embarrassing, too galling for the haters.

So it was left to the White House to make this right, to take a wrecking ball to a rigged system. Mr. Trump acted correctly. And there could have been no more fitting, final rebuke to four years of drive-by shootings than to release the man the cabal claimed as its very first victim. Justice indeed, and on many levels.

Write to kim@wsj.com.

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